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3rd March 2022

Review: 9 to 5

Jessica Hamilton and Sophie Hicks review 9 to 5, which is based on the film of the same name and stars Claire Sweeney, at the Palace Theatre
Review: 9 to 5
Photo: Pamela Raith Photography.

Jessica Hamilton

The lights dimmed, the show began and Dolly Parton’s face beamed from a giant clock centre-stage. Her personal introduction of the ensemble was nothing short of a spiritual experience. I can’t help but think it’s the closest I’ll get to seeing God. The opening song, ‘Nine to Five’, was expected and appreciated. This lively performance set the tone for the next 2 hours. 

The show, set in 1980s corporate America, explores the lives of 3 women who are fed-up with workplace sexism. These women couldn’t be more different from each other. Judy Bernly (Vivian Panka) is a recently single sweetheart, Violet Newstead (Claire Sweeney) is a hard-working single mum – and finally, we have Doralee Rhodes (Stephanie Chandos), a feisty country girl outcasted for her looks. Yet, all three are bonded over their shared experience of misogyny. 

The plot is amazingly silly. The girls’ frustrations grow towards their boss, Mr Hart (Sean Needham). A two-dimensional, pig-like man, whose only interests (besides himself) are sex and money. At a fast-moving pace, the girls ‘stick it to the man’ by accidentally kidnapping him. Whilst Mr Hart is tied-up, gagged and humiliated, the three women run the company, showing how things should be done. 

Despite committing a handful of crimes, there were absolutely no consequences for the women – sending a very important feminist message: Why punish women, haven’t we suffered enough?

All jokes aside, Dolly Parton probably isn’t the next Simone de Beauvoir. But she doesn’t claim to be! The musical takes a serious topic and shows just how silly it is. Sure, I could go into detail about the contradictory and misguided feminism. But why bother? The feel-good factor is off the charts, and it’s guaranteed to make you smile. 

The musical can be praised for its fascinating display of the characters’ inner psyches. Every daydream becomes a show-stopping performance. Mr Hart’s delusional lust over Doralee Rhodes received a lot of audience laughter. Judy Bernly looked angelic as she envisioned her bright future as a single woman. But my personal favourite was Violet Newstead’s fantasy of breaking the glass ceiling. In a white power suit, surrounded by fellow girl bosses, she sang about being at the top. It was energetic and powerful, and I’m sure I wasn’t the only audience member hoping her dream would come true. 

The production was impressive, the lighting and costume reflecting who the characters are at their core. It was a brilliant and bright performance, certain to boost your mood. I would recommend this show to anyone, whether they’re a fan of Dolly or not.

Sophie Hicks

When they say Dolly Parton presents 9 to 5 the musical, I wasn’t expecting them to take it so literally. I could not believe my eyes when a video of Dolly Parton kept returning to narrate the story (and sing along to the opening song ‘Nine to Five’, a new version of her iconic ‘9 to 5’) – but I knew that this was going to be a fun night.

If you’re unaware of the plot, 9 to 5 follows the story of three women – Violet Newstead (Claire Sweeney), Judy Bernly (Vivian Panka) and Doralee Rhodes (Stephanie Chandos) – who struggle to work under their sexist boss, Franklin Hart Jr. (Sean Needham). The women feel like they can’t progress in a man’s world and take the situation into their own hands to create a better work environment.

Despite being a reimagining of the 1980 film, the sexist remarks and plot points still feel very raw to this day, and a lot of the audience cheered when the women were taking their stand. If you’re a woman or from a minority group, you’ll definitely relate to their experiences of frustration.

I thought that the performances were stellar, particularly Stephanie Chandos as Doralee and Sean Needham as Frankin Hart Jr. I felt that Stephanie brought her own charisma to the stage whilst staying true to the iconic character played by Dolly. Those are some big boots to fill, and she definitely did an excellent job.

Sean Needham was extremely funny as the sexist boss, Mr Hart, which is impressive as every action he did was unlikeable. Despite being my worst nightmare for a boss, Needham was charismatic and unafraid to lean into his awful character’s antics. A personal highlight was when he was lifted into the sky with a ball gag in his mouth – and no, I won’t be providing any context for that.

Of course, the stellar Claire Sweeney was incredible as Violet Newstead, playing the biggest girl boss on the stage. I also loved the performance from Julia J Nagle as Roz Keith, who I thought was hilarious when with Needham. I wasn’t expecting BDSM fantasies in 9 to 5, but I loved it.

Overall, if you love the film, you’ll definitely love the talent within this musical production. There were many, many laughs, and it’s the feel-good musical you need after finishing your own 9 to 5 job.

Now, If you’ll excuse me, I’ll be humming ‘9 to 5’ for the next month straight.

9 to 5 plays at the Palace Theatre until the 5th of March – the last stop of its UK tour.

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