Review: Clean – The Musical (Brighton Fringe)

This musical, with book by Sam Chittenden and music by Simon Scardanelli, is a Different Theatre production for the Brighton Fringe. The online version is a studio recorded/filmed version of the show rather than a filmed performance, so it is a different show in many ways to the live version.

Clean: The Musical tells the tales of women of Round Hill, Brighton (popularly known as ‘Laundry Hill’) since 1870 and is a rousing celebration of women’s resilience and sisterhood through difficult times. Themes include suffrage, sexuality, abuse, bereavement, mental health and – topically – the smallpox outbreak in 1950, which has eerie parallels with COVID seventy years later.” (Brighton Fringe introduction).

Eight women populate the cast: Millicent (played by Sharon Drain); Dr Helen Boyle (played by Abi McLoughlin); Meg (played by Anna Chloe Moorey); Dot (played by Amy Sutton); Ruby (played by Rosa Samuels); Juliet (played by Kimberley Adams); Mireille (played by Judey Bignell); and Tasha (played by Holly Ray). All are perfectly suited to their roles, with Sutton especially good in portraying a hard life in living memory.

This is the story of both them and other women of their generations, and of those to come. At some points there are parallels between stories indicated by split screens; at other times a group come together in strident song to celebrate a sense of sisterhood. At a couple of moments characters are mirrored with one speaking the words which are sung. The music is excellent, for both solos and ensemble, and fits together seamlessly with what would be a powerful play on its own. The editing, too, is excellent and you soon forget this cast is not performing together.

Promotional image for Clean:The Musical

Whether we follow Meg’s suffrage campaign, Ruby’s escape from her abusive partner, Dot’s laundry mistress with her girls succumbing to sickness, Tasha’s contemporary woman, Juliet’s suburban wife talking about battles past, Dr Helen on the plight of women in the professions, or Millicent’s mother/daughter bond, there is a strong sense that this is a fist raised for the female cause.

These are our sisters who walked before us. Those of our grandma’s generation, and of her grandma’s. “We stood up to take our place here / see the difference we made”, is the refrain of one of the songs. There are stories of standing up to adversity, of dealing with the loss of a child, or making do. This is centered on one place, but is universal.

Clean: The Musical has been well-researched with each time period feeling convincing in both costume and delivery. Some stories inevitably engross more than others (possibly to do with lived experience, or family stories of women in a particular ancestry), but each is well-presented and the weaving in of songs is never forced. The music is simply a rational projection of the inner strength of each of the women.

This is a strong and striking new musical, albeit based on Sam Chittenden’s 2019 play Clean (Best Play Winner, Brighton Fringe). These women each deserve their own space but together, they are an enviable force.

Fringe rating: ****

You can watch Clean: The Musical online at the Brighton Fringe until 27 June, on demand, It runs just short of two hours, and tickets cost £10: book here. If you wish to see the live version of the show, it is also on in Brighton on 11-13 June: book here.

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