There are two things guaranteed to pull a Hull audience, writes Michelle Dee, and that is local heritage and local music. So it seems with a packed house for the final night of Heads Up before the festival looks to 2017. It’s Different Girls is a new musical about Hull group Mandy and the Girlfriends planned and made by the young company She Productions.

An evening with She Productions
An evening with She Productions at Heads Up Festival. Photograph by Jerome Whittingham @photomoments

Known for being the first all-girl group from Hull who played all their own instruments, Mandy and the Girlfriends toured the country playing rock n roll just like their male-counterparts of the time. In 2013 original members Merle Phillips and Margaret Brown collaborated on the book It’s Different for Girls, the musical opening next September at East Riding Theatre in Beverley – where She Productions are Company in Residence – has been inspired by the detailed accounts, stories and songs of teenage girls, working in a predominantly male industry.

Hillary and Karen from the band are in to see tonight’s scratch performance in Kardomah 94, they are causing a right ruckus… there appears to be a bit of a reunion going on just behind me. From the half hour taster we learn that the show will feature live music, with the cast all singing and playing live on stage – just as the Girlfriends did before them.

The beginning of the piece is a little confusing for anyone who knows anything about the Hull group’s story. A Barbie doll is posed this way and that on screen, likewise during the rehearsal the group mimic puppets, with wide eyes and plastered on smiles. But surely these girls were proving how independent they were, how they could rock n roll just like the men and not be held back by outmoded notions of propriety and gender expectation?

There are also the inklings of the tensions and rivalries, that befall almost every band, add to that the cramped conditions – with four girls in the back of one van and a prima donna sat alone in front, albeit doing the driving and this group, is about ready to implode, before they’ve even started.

The fashions make a visual impact immediately, tiny multi-coloured mini-dresses and beehives will have us all reaching for the sixties sense of style. There’s so much more to this rock n roll story and It’s Different for Girls will no doubt be a hot ticket next year during City of Culture.

In a special double-bill the packed crowd were treated to Let’s Do It: a wonderfully funny tribute to the late Victoria Wood. Not only inspired by Victoria’s rich back-catalogue of work but also her charitable concerns, tonight’s show raised awareness for Jessie’s Fund. During her life Victoria Wood was patron for the charity who support the needs of children with life limiting diseases. She Productions have been asked by the charity to perform at a fund raising evening in front of Victoria’s friends and family; there can be no greater honour or indeed challenge for the young company.

With all five either taking on the role of Victoria or her friends Celia Imrie and Julie Walters, we remember the glorious characters she created that burst on to our TV screens and immediately appeared so familiar. There’s a wonderfully committed keep-fit routine, all eyes on the brightly coloured leotard bobbing up and down, the Hamlet sketch and the Bronte guide go down a storm with all us thespians… It would be unfair to spoil the surprises least to say it is testament to the delivery and obvious love for Victoria’s writing, that even though many of us are aware of the gags, the laughs keep on coming. And there’s a few musical surprises thrown in for good measure.

If She Productions took their very funny and good-natured tribute to Victoria out and about to the rural community halls and theatre spaces, I think they’d have a lot of success with it. She Productions received whistles and cheers as people stood up to show their appreciation for both shows.


She Productions are:

Rachel Barnes
Jessica Duffield
Annie Kirkman
Hannah Levy
Alice Rose Palmer

Producer Ellie Claughton, Musical Supervisor Paul Frankish, Costume Design Tiffany Wilkinson-Morris with Choreography by Jon Beney

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