Based on the winner of Brighton Fringe 2019’s Best New Play, Clean: The Musical from Different Theatre explores the lives of a group of women in Brighton’s historic Roundhill area (or Laundry Hill) from the 1880s to today.
The story begins in the present with Tasha (Holly Ray) sitting in her old family home which was once a laundry house after many years away living abroad. Tasha looks back on what life may have been like for women in the area throughout history.
Throughout the musical, the present-day stories are interwoven with tales from the past, allowing the audience some reflective yet insightful moments. The split-screen editing of the characters shows that these women are connected in their experiences.
From mental health and sexuality to women’s rights and grief, Clean explores a plethora of themes with success, emphasising the similarities between these women despite their drastically different lives.
Despite each character being filmed separately, the actors do an amazing job of portraying a sense of unity in the musical numbers. Simon Scardanelli’s folk-style music paired with Sam Chittenden’s lyrics are as emotional as it is powerful. The exploration of women’s suffrage was a particularly poignant moment, the characters from past and present uniting in song, singing about resistance and resilience was certainly one of the best moments of the show.
The show also reminds us that despite the progress we have made as women, there is certainly a long way to go and there are still a lot of issues that need to be addressed and tackled. Alongside these hardships, there are still moments of hope, power, and strength. Abi McLoughlin plays Dr Helen Boyle, a lesbian doctor who founded the first hospital for women in England. McLoughlin’s strong-willed portrayal of Boyle and her triumphs shows what we can achieve if we keep challenging the status quo.
Another standout performance was Rosa Samuels as Ruby, a young woman running away from abuse and addiction. Samuels gives a gut-wrenching portrayal as she tries to escape her abusive ex and difficult past. It is a story that many are all too familiar with and Samuels provides the emotional depth needed for such a challenging topic. She also sends an important message about women’s safety, with recent tragic events in the news, this moment is particularly potent. Ruby and the other women urge the audience to keep fighting for equality and never giving up.
The eerie parallels between the smallpox outbreak in the 1950s and our current pandemic seventy years later are also interesting. We see Dot (Amy Sutton), wife of a laundry owner during the 50s outbreak struggling with loss and grief, an issue many are currently facing with the scary uncertainty of their own reality. The women from different periods uplifting Dot in song, reminding her that she is not alone is a very sweet moment.
Despite the struggles that these women face, the production truly shows the power of sisterhood and women coming together to support one another. Each character is a celebration of female strength through an incredibly talented all-female cast. For anyone feeling a little hopeless and in need of some female empowerment, Clean: The Musical is the powerful feminist story you need.
Tickets to Clean: The Musical is available now and can be purchased from the Brighton Fringe website.
Reviewer: Gemma Prince
Reviewed: 29th May 2021
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★
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