Musicals & Opera
4 – 28 Aug, not Mondays
The plot: Franklin Hart Jr. is the boss in a corporation who regards all his female employees as ‘girls’, their only purpose to carry out his every whim and be the butt of all his crude jokes and sexual advances. Violet, the supervisor of the secretaries, is continually passed over for promotion in favour of men she has trained up; Doralee, Hart’s busty, blonde-haired Texan secretary is generally believed to be sleeping with him, and is generally hated, but is in fact repealing his advances and hates him as much as everyone else. Jane, recently divorced and desperate to have and keep a job despite her complete lack of skills and qualifications, joins the pool of secretaries and is taken under Violet’s wing. The three women discover that they all loathe Hart, and fantasise about giving him his comeuppance. The next day, an unexpected chain of circumstances results in them imprisoning Hart and taking over running the corporation while investigating his fraudulent accounting: will truth and justice prevail, or will this arrogant, lying, cheating, sexist bastard prevail? …
It was loud, it was colourful, it was kinda cheery: but when I compare it with Glasgow Girls I’m left dissatisfied. Why?
The cast – music theatre students at the Scottish Conservatoire – were able enough: they multi-tasked when required, changing characters and shifting furniture (though some of the sofas proved recalcitrant) in and out of the cleverly-designed Habitat-cube-like set; the three central women did a good job of creating their characters and belting out their emotions in a manner worthy of the great Dolly herself; the sexist, chauvinistic, lying, cheating, slimy boss was nicely detestable; and the audience were enthusiastic.
Seeing characters who were not in the first flush of youth portrayed by smooth-cheeked, fresh-faced youngsters is an inevitable part of a student production: but I guess my problem arose more from the fact that the ensemble lacked clearly-differentiated characters, were a bit more ‘rentacrowd’ than group of individuals with their own histories and ways of being. This could, of course, have been intentional – the regimented life of the 9 to 5 office worker, denied the right to any personality, and the wage slave of the corporation, would tend to produce a group of soulless clones, afraid to step out of line for fear of losing their job. [That was in 1979 – has anything changed, I wonder???] The cast did their best, but somehow I couldn’t engage or identify with them, although I was in sympathy with almost everything they were saying. That said, there were some good performances, and the Doralee/ Dolly character was excellent. The audience thoroughly enjoyed the show.
We were graced with an introduction and postlude by Dolly Parton, who even on film crackled with life and energy in a way that outshone most of the people on stage. That said, there were some good performances, and the Doralee/ Dolly character was excellent. The audience thoroughly enjoyed the show.
It’s not that the plot is fantastical – it’s no sillier than many things I’ve seen; it’s not that the music isn’t necessarily what I’d choose to listen to; I was appreciating the depiction of the male-dominated work atmosphere of the 70s, having experienced it to a degree myself. I think the crunch came during the number when Violet is imagining being CEO of the corporation: it’s a splendid number, in which she is lauded, feted, and carried about by a splendid barber-shop quartet of men: but the punch line is that NOW SHE”S ONE OF THE BOYS – i.e. a woman can only succeed by becoming more of a man than a man: Margaret Thatcher, here we come….
That said, it’s a most enjoyable show: there are a lot of good numbers in it, and some clever moments – I particularly loved the transformation of Doralee’s living room into a Fred MacMurray movie downtown dive, complete with slinky chorus girls in glittery dresses, and Violet’s Disney fantasy with all the woodland creatures (not forgetting the obligatory chorus of bluebirds) assisting her in making a magic potion.
The film from which this musical was derived was released in 1980 and brought Dolly P to stardom. It featured Lily Tomlin as Violet and Jane Fonda as the mousy Jane. How much has changed in the intervening 36 years? There’s still pay disparity between men and women, and though there is legislation against sexism and ageism in the workplace, both still exist. When the women take charge, they start introducing such novelties as day care for workers’ children, job-sharing, and an hour for lunch, and employees are allowed to personalise their desks: the result is an upturn in productivity. It seems so obvious, and may be evident in some offices in the UK – but how much is it in the USA? (And, of course, “secretaries” are a dying breed – we still have the Personal Assistant for the Higher Executive, but the advent of the pc and laptop have killed off the typewriter and made its operators redundant. So, in a way, this musical is a historical document…)
Both shows are about injustice and each in its own way points out the injustice and engages our sympathy with the oppressed.
I guess, ultimately, the difference for me is that the Glasgow Girls are real, and 9 to 5 is fantasy: enjoyable fantasy, but highly unlikely in real life. I was interested to find out what would happen, and concerned for the different plights of the main female characters, but not particularly moved to go out and do something to change the world.
I cared passionately about the cause for which the Glasgow Girls were fighting, and about the highly individual characters in their story: I firmly believe that individuals can make a difference, and when “little people” work together they can move mountains. Now if David Greig turned his attention to gender inequality, what sort of a 9 to 5 would he write? Dream on…