Peter Buncombe with permission for Varsity

Following in the footsteps of an award-winning musical, a cult-classic film, and the music of the legend that is Dolly Parton, Cambridge Operatic Society’s 9 to 5 had some big stilettos to fill. Not to worry though - with its high energy, high fun and high camp, it certainly delivered. The musical centres on three women:, cynical veteran of the workplace Violet (Emma Vieceli), naive but tough Judy, and the perky, Dolly-esque Doralee (Vikki Jones), who struggle with their daily ‘9 to 5’ jobs under their “sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical, bigot” of a boss, Franklin Hart Junior (Rodger Llloyd). Hijinks ensue when they accidentally kidnap him, but they improve the quality of life for everyone in their office.

While there were some standout individual performances – notably Ellie Baldwin’s Judy telling her aptly-named ex-husband Dick (Andrew Ruddick) exactly what she thinks of him in ‘Get Out and Stay Out’ – it was the consistent performances of the ensemble who really made the show. The office scenes in particular constantly featured a bustling, animated background, which brought to life the non-stop atmosphere of the daily corporate toil, making the shift to the welcoming, inclusive workplace in the second act more effective. The toe-tapping chorus numbers never failed to boost the energy in the theatre, especially when opening and closing each act. As the three lead women fantasise about murdering their boss, moving through a 1920s nightclub scene, a line-dancing rodeo, and a murderous take on a fairytale, the ensemble and their quick costume changes provide some of the most comical and visually impressive parts of the show.

“The toe-tapping chorus numbers never failed to boost the energy in the theatre”

A particularly striking element was found in the show’s antagonist, Hart; simultaneously a pantomime villain, a 1970s stereotype, and an unnervingly contemporary-relevant representation of a CEO. The show as a whole reflects this theme, with radio adverts and costuming firmly setting the period as the ’70s, but the struggles around childcare at work, equal pay, and being passed over for promotions in favour of male colleagues could just as easily happen today. In fact, directors Helen Petrovna and David Barrett lamented that “there’s not been a massive amount of progress in workplace equity for women and marginalised groups.”

“There are some moments in the show that are a satisfying opposition to the general bigotry of the ’70s workplace”

The role of Hart probably gets harder to direct and portray as time goes on: the Hart of the 1980 movie was repugnant, but attitudes of the time were such that his sexism could still be played for laughs. In 2024, the same beats, including asking Doralee to find a file from a high shelf so he can take photos up her dress made my skin crawl. Of course, this makes his comeuppance all the more rewarding to watch, but the audience first has to endure the excruciating scenes of inappropriate behaviour and harassment. To combat this, there are some moments in the show that are a satisfying opposition to the general bigotry of the ’70s workplace. Hart’s administrative assistant, Roz, played hilariously by Katie Emma McArthur, is given her own happy ending, overcoming her infatuation with Hart and replacing it with a fulfilling relationship with his wife. Rather than finding a new husband, Judy stays single and publishes her successful memoir, ‘Life without Dick.’ In this version, the directors played heavily into the lesbian subtext with Judy staring directly at Doralee’s boobs for the entirety of their very first interaction. And Doralee has her applause-worthy line to her boss: “I’ll turn you from a rooster into a hen with one shot.”


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There were a few lighting and microphone errors, meaning some of the lines were lost, and the American accents slipped in a few places, occasionally sounding more Sidge site than San Francisco. Nonetheless, the production was engaging and entertaining throughout, and certainly had more than one person singing ‘9 to 5’ down King’s Parade on the way home. What a way to make a livin’.

9 TO 5: THE MUSICAL is showing at the Cambridge Arts Theatre until the 20th of January.