Running through different eras of history, Clean - The Musical wiped the floor with its heartfelt, touching overlapping of stories of seven women who lived in Roundhill, Brighton. The principal connection between all of them was laundry, but they were also bonded by sisterhood, standing up for their rights, helping each other up when down, and - more poignantly - how every single woman dealt with health struggles, whether physical or mental health related. The main narrator Tasha (Holly Ray), based in present day 2021, linked them all together as she went through her late mother's things. What evolved from this framework was a musical that has the spirit of Les Miserables, and a strong potential to be taken into the West End.
Clean - The Musical touched everyone's hearts.
With each story that unfolded, Sam Chittenden's writing enabled communal resonance with all lives on so many levels. This was equally aided by the strong performances and songs the cast portrayed on stage via a Brechtian style of storytelling, as individual voices helped to make these women come to life.
Ray's Tasha gave us a valuable insight into dealing with grief, as she explored the difficult relationship she had with her late mother. Although she seemed nonchalent to begin with, as her character evolved we saw that she had a very curious and sensitive side to her. Ray gave her character a strong backbone, as well as an emotional journey that was engaging, and easy to connect with.
Judey Bignell presented a sensitive insight into the mind of Dr Helen Boyle, one of the first female GPs in Brighton. She and her partner Dr Mabel Jones made waves by working with women who had what would we identify today as anxiety, and also dealt with the hardship of being gay in 1905. Bignell's approach was not only sensitive, but very focused in all the small details, such as how she took notes, which helped to make her a well-rounded and believable character.
Jack Cryer complimented Bignell with her powerful portrayal of Juliet. A woman in the 1990s going through the menopause looking back at her life of activism. This was a down to earth performance that brought a different slant to womanhood with a directness that made us rethink how we see our bodies, and more.
Sharon Drain and Amy Sutton provided fantastic performances as laundry women who dealt with so many difficulties for their time periods. Drain's Millicent highlighted the struggles of family and work in 1885, whilst Sutton's Dot examined the spooky crossover of a pandemic in the 1950s when smallpox broke out.
And finally, Anna Chloe Moore and Rosa Samuels portrayed young women making a difference. Moore's fiesty Meg was a 1920s suffragette encourging women to vote despite her father objecting. However, Samuells' Ruby showed the harsh reality of physical abuse at the hands of her husband in the 1970s before changing her life by running away to a women's refuge.
The staging was much like the show’s title: clean. A simple representation of hanging laundry was placed next to a platform that encouraged women to vote. The additional use of a balcony was an excellent choice, as it added extra height and dynamism to the visual appearance of the stage. All of the instruments were played live on stage by the actors, which really helped to bring the music alive, and to the forefront of the audience’s attention. Accompanying the musical numbers was simple choreography, which was very effective given the small stage space. However, it would be exciting to see what more could be done with the performance’s movement if given a bigger venue.
These stories and songs from Clean - The Musical touched everyone's hearts. This show needs to be given a bigger platform given the subjects explored, as well as wonderful writing and performances.