Never before have I been so out of kilter with an audience. I thought the show was terrible. But the theatre was absolutely packed, and at the end, the entire audience rose to their feet and gave it the standingest of standing ovations. fit to shake the venerable Edwardian structure to its foundations. So what is my grouse? I don’t have a word to say against the acting, the singing and the choreography, or even against its chief promoter, Dolly Parton – though I could have done without the cheesy comments addressed to us by a disembodied Dolly at various points in the show. And I certainly don’t disagree with the message being put across, namely that women should have equal treatment and opportunities in the workplace. What gets to me is the crudity with which the message is conveyed.
The setting is the office of a big company in America circa 1980 when men wore suits to work and women sat at typewriters or took dictation, and sexism was the order of the day. The action centers on three of the oppressed secretaries. The longest-serving really keeps the office going, but is not appreciated. The newest is undeservedly given a hard time, while the prettiest is PA to the CEO and is subject to the unwanted attentions of the boss. The latter is a pantomime villain. He smokes fat cigars, he has wandering hands, he comes out with remarks such as women are only there to serve men. He himself is a man of straw, set up to be knocked down. Or rather, to be hoist with his own petard, almost literally, when the determined threesome abduct him, take him to his home, and discover there a chamber equipped with bondage paraphernalia which they put to good use. It is not only the audience that is left in suspense at the interval.
All is put to rights when the CEO is disgraced, the veteran secretary becomes the new CEO, the women get equal pay with the men, the lunch break is lengthened, and productivity rises as a result. At the time when 9 to 5 first came out as a movie in 1980, office life was very different from today, and the points it was making were about persistent wrongs that really needed to be put right. Maybe something this blatant was right for the time. But could we not do with something more subtle now? Not if last night’s audience was anything to go by. They loved it, and I was in the minority of one.
- Music & Lyrics by Dolly Parton
- Book by Patricia Resnick
- Director: Jeff Calhoun
- Produced by Ambassador Theatre Group Productions
- Photography: Pamela Raith
- Cast Includes: Louise Redknapp, Stephanie Chandos, Vivian Panka and Sean Needham
- The New Wimbledon Theatre, London
- Until: Saturday 23rd October 2021
- Running time : 2¼ hours (including interval)