Clean! The Musical is as unique a musical as you'll find at the Fringe. Seven women, each with a connection to Laundry Hill (Round Hill) in Brighton tell their stories of suffrage, smallpox, sexuality and more, spanning the centuries from 1880 to the present day.
Clean! The Musical is as unique a musical as you'll find at the Fringe.
These women include Millicent, an 1887 laundry worker (Sharon Drain); 1905's Helen Boyle, Brighton's first female GP (Judey Bignell); Meg, a flapper and suffragette from 1929 (Anna Chloe Moorey); Dot, a laundry manageress in 1950 (Amelia Armande); Ruby, a refuge seeker from 1979 (Rosa Samuels); 1995 feminist campaigner Juliet (Jack Cryer); and finally Tasha, a modern-day single mother who is clearing out her late mother's belongings (Holly Ray). It is Tasha who first brings these stories together, having found a collection of historical documents that inspire her to dig deeper into these women's lives.
The show is structured around short monologues swapped to and fro between the characters, taking us through the time they spent in Brighton, the people they loved and lost, and the brave new paths they forged for women. We learn about the fear of working through the 1950s smallpox outbreak, the transition from motherhood to menopause, the strength of those healing from abuse, and more broadly, the valuable and tangible differences women make.
Juggling seven characters, each with their own rich story to tell, is a challenge, but Sam Chittenden's book allows each woman's story to reveal itself slowly, as women's stories so often do. What is clever about the show's structure is how it extends itself to the audience, like a baton passed on, or another peg hung on a line. The connections made between the characters are undoutedly reflected back at them by the women in the audience (and it was mainly women in the audience), who will have all had experiences like those in the show - in fact, many of them will have lived through some of the later events mentioned on stage. As a result, seven connections on stage results in a room full of connections, through theme, place, and time.
The poignancy of the piece was often in the details, with moments of subtly powerful staging. The stage comprised two balconies and the characters would look down from one to the other, watching the women of centuries to come grapple with all of life's hardships as they did. It was touching to imagine that chain of women from past to present, looking over and after one another.
Naturally, the acoustics of the One Church venue added beauty to the already chill-inducing harmonies and live music, with most of the cast taking up instruments throughout the show. The score, composed by Simon Scardanelli with libretto by Sam Chittenden, was folksy and full of beautiful hooks and melodies.
Poignant lyrics with orchestration that was both pensive and rousing made each song a real joy to engage with. Happily, Different Theatre has made the soundtrack available online, as there are so many musical moments that are worthy of being relived.
Clean! is a musical not to be missed; a mature, sophisticated, and truly inspiring piece of theatre.