No matter what the creative industry faces, you have to give it credit for how it constantly rises to the challenge to find new ways to produce work. With a theatre drought due to venues being closed, creativity juices have flowed in various ways, giving us exciting and innovative ways to bring us theatre. The Secret Society of Leading Ladies is the definition of this - as innovative as it gets.
Conceived by Ryan Carter for The Barn Theatre, the groundbreaking new show lets the viewer act as the curator - deciding your cast and setlist. Through a series of five "Choose your player" moments through the course of the 30 minute show, you can be the casting director from your living room and assemble your own team of leading ladies to create your very own musical Avengers.
Neither a musical or a concert, the interactive show imagines a world where musical theatre characters co-exist in the same universe. The MTU includes Regina George from Mean Girls, Princess Fiona from Shrek and Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz to name but a few. The characters interact with eachother throughout the show inbetween their performances depending on who you have chosen. With over 150 possible combinations, words will never do justice the sheer genius of this concept.
For the members of his Secret Society, Ryan Carter has recruited some of the most talented people in the business. His cast of leading ladies consists of Jocasta Almgill (& Juliet, Rent, In The Heights, Dreamgirls), Lauren Byrne (Beautiful, Six), Kayla Carter (Rent), Aoife Clesham (Fiver), Allie Daniel (Rent), Abbi Hodgson (Six - NCL), Aisha Jawando (Tina the Musical, Motown the Musical, The Life, Beautiful), Claudia Kariuki (Priscilla Queen of The Dessert, School of Rock, Wicked), Natalie Kassanga (Dear Evan Hansen, Motown The Musical), Emma Kingston (The Last 5 Years, Zorro, Evita, Fiddler on the Roof, In The Heights), Kayleigh McKnight (Bend It Like Beckham, Les Miserables, Tina the Musical, Jesus Christ Superstar), Ellie Mitchell (Chicago, Wicked), Jarnéia Richard-Noel (Six) and Kelly Sweeney (Hair, Six).
The only downside is you are only able to choose five of them, but don't worry - you get a glimpse of them in the shows big finish. There is also the option for one day access so you can watch the show multiple times and choose different line-ups every time. With that, you can watch all 14 of the solo performances or if you're feeling brave enough, try and uncover all 150 combinations.
The talent on display in this show is immeasurable. Aisha Jawando stole the show in the BBC's Musicals: The Greatest Show concert and is equally phenomenal here, giving a star turn as The Witch from Into The Woods for a rousing 'Last Midnight'. Her characterisation and versatility is simply jawdropping. There really isn't a single performance out of the 14 that is anything less than phenomenal but a couple of other highlights to mention are Kayleigh McKnight's incredible 'World Burn' and Lauren Byrne's stunning 'Journey To The Past'.
It sounds great, doesn't it? Things like this might work on paper but may be flawed when executed. I'm pleased to say The Secret Society of Leading Ladies doesn't have that problem. Incredibly produced, it is without a doubt the most fun you can have with an online production. The power of women are at the forefront of this show - whether they are princesses, Queen Bees or villains, there are no catfights to be had here. The sisterhood come together to ask one question - "Why are we here?". This is a fabulously original way to celebrate women in theatre.
Simply staged and cleverly edited, The Secret Society of Leading Ladies is as entertaining as musical theatre can get. We have all embraced online theatre as our temporary new normal as much as we can - while we might love it, it can never quite recapture that sense of interaction you can get at the theatre. This show tries its best to recreate that feeling and does a brilliant job of making the viewer feel included.
To sum it up, watch it and then watch it again. I can't applaud the genius of this production enough so I'm giving it a well deserved standing ovation from my living room. This sets the bar high for what online theatre can achieve - let's hope more people rise to the occasion to make theatre as groundbreaking as this. In fact, can we start a petition for more secret societies in the future?
The Secret Society of Leading Ladies is playing from Monday 22nd February until Sunday 7th March. Tickets cost £10 for a single stream or £15 for unlimited one day access which allows you to watch as many combinations as you can in 24 hours. My advice is to definitely go for that one as you're going to want to watch all 15 performances.
Tickets can be purchased at barntheatre.org.uk/barn-at-home.