This is a strange show which never seems quite to decide what it’s meant to be. Based on a movie, it is effectively a jukebox job with songs and lyrics by Dolly Parton, some of them – such as the title song – very familiar indeed. Yet the book (by Patricia Resnick) is a strong one. It’s funny but makes many serious points about feminism and women in the workplace in the 1970s. It flopped on Broadway but did reasonably well on tour both in the US and the UK. Today it is hugely popular with non-pro groups and it’s easy to see why. It provides lots of excellent roles for women, makes good use of ensemble and there’s plenty for everyone to do.
In the hands of Gillingham Dramatic Society it fizzes along energetically. The numbers, tuneful as they mostly are, sometimes feel like one set piece after another but that’s a flaw the show itself and nothing to do with skilled director Rachel Ann Crane-Herbert and her accomplished cast.
At the centre of the action are three women - all of whom work in the same office - who are eventually driven to take extreme action to sort out their appalling sexist boss. Jeni Boyns is outstanding as Violet, the widowed typing pool manager concerned about her teenage son at home. Her acting is very natural and therefore convincing – whether she’s chatting in the office, pulling faces at the boss, dealing with home issues or at one glorious, hair-letting down moment smoking pot and having a relaxed laugh with her friends. Boyns creates a really rounded, fully developed character and she sings well too. Laura Dee finds all the right qualities for the frothy but feisty Doralee who is happily married, sick of being groped by her boss and really wants to be a country and western singer. There’s fine work from Claire Scholes too as jilted Judy who eventually finds her own independent identity and sings like a nightingale.
Glenn Atkinson makes a pleasing fist of playing the boss Franklin Hart Jnr who is the “baddie” in all this. He is a lecherous, embezzling liar – but pretty plausible until he gets his final comeuppance. Atkinson conveys the sliminess of the man adeptly. I love that subtle tug on the waistband to readjust his trousers after patting Dee’s character on the bottom. And he sings with tuneful conviction.
Nicely played support roles include Marianna Allen as the unhappy alcoholic worker who eventually turns herself round, Liz McSherry as Roz, the older woman with the hots for Hart and Lewis Matthews as the fresh faced young accountant trying to court Violet.
Supporting all this is a ten piece band, including two percussionists, led by Owen McColgan. After a slightly shaky start on the opening night, they quickly settled to produce a rich, well balanced sound – and those songs range over a number of styles which it’s good to hear played with panache.
I think this show is a clear case of GDS triumphs again.