Theatre review: 9 To 5, Playhouse, Edinburgh

ANOTHER week in Scottish theatre, another feelgood girls’-night-out touring show about women getting a bit of their own back, against centuries of patriarchal power.
Laura Tyrer in 9 to 5 PIC: Andrew RossLaura Tyrer in 9 to 5 PIC: Andrew Ross
Laura Tyrer in 9 to 5 PIC: Andrew Ross

9 To 5, Playhouse, Edinburgh ****

In fact, if it wasn’t for women and gay men – two groups oppressed enough to recognise the experience of being marginalised and under-rated, but still able to afford a good night out – it’s hard to imagine exactly where large-scale commercial theatre would be, in 2019; and Dolly Parton’s 9 To 5 is the female fightback show par excellence, based on the 1980 film starring Parton, Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda, and set in a 1970s office riddled with sexist attitudes and work practices.

This stage version – first seen in 2008 – does not feature Dolly Parton in the remarkable flesh, of course. Yet the show is produced by her company, and features around 15 musical numbers written by her; and she is also powerfully present on video, introducing the story and characters, and even giving us the odd burst of song.

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The show, in other words, is full of Dolly’s inimitable spirit; and to judge by the quality of Tuesday night’s opening performance in Edinburgh – which featured superb understudy Louise Tyrer in the leading role of Violet Newstead, rather than an indisposed Louise Redknapp – that spirit is more than strong enough to carry it through, even in the absence of its advertised star.

Set by designer Tom Rogers on a memorably sleek and adaptable stage, framed by a barrage of big old desktop computer screens that change colour and mood in an instant, Jeff Calhoun’s production moves us effortlessly from the office of the anonymous Consolidated corporation – where women like Violet, and the boss’s sexy secretary Doralee, run everything without matching pay or recognition – to the luxury apartment of sleazy boss Franklin Hart, where the women somehow find themselves imprisoning him in his own S&M gear after an office rebellion goes wrong.  

The music, while largely forgettable, is fun and witty enough to support some excellent ensemble choreography by Lisa Stevens, brilliantly delivered by an enthusiastic cast of 30.

And with Sean Needham acting up a rueful storm as the useless Hart, and Georgina Castle and Amber Davies offering Tyrer tremendous support in the key roles of Doralee and new girl Judy, 9 to 5 offers an absurdly enjoyable journey back to one of those vital moments in history when working women finally began to get together, across all the man-made barriers that once divided them, to create real change. Joyce McMillan