Sam Chittenden and Simon Scardanelli’s musical Clean! is a showcase celebrating the lives and achievements of seven powerful Brighton women over the last 140 years.
Tasha centres the narrative for us. She’s a young woman who, after the Covid flight ban is lifted, comes back to Brighton to sell her recently dead mother’s house. In her belongings she finds documents going back to the 1880s and so the stories of these women come before us, with the narrative flitting backwards and forwards.
Tasha (Holly Ray) introduces us to Millicent (Sharon Drain), a worker in the Mayo laundry on Richmond Road, Brighton. It’s the 1880s and the camaraderie of the ladies overcomes the hardship they face at work and home, especially when typhoid hits the town. And we get the powerful opening song, which signifies the bond between these ‘mothers, daughters, sisters, friends’. It’s a stirring starter.
Fast forward and we meet Dot (Amelia Armande), the feisty and resilient no-nonsense fictitious manageress of the Tivoli laundry, when the town is hit in 1950/51 by a massive smallpox epidemic. There are strong comparisons here to Covid – quarantine, vaccination, isolation, death and a sign in the street saying ‘visitors to Brighton not welcome’. One in three victims died and the rest were literally scarred for life.
Then it’s back in time to 1905 and we meet GP Dr Helen Boyle (Judey Bignell), who with her same-sex life and work partner Dr Mabel Jones are trailblazers in the care of mentally-ill women. Then we’re off again to meet Juliet (Jack Cryer), a middle-aged woman struggling with the menopause in the 1990s and thinking back to her days of activism at Greenham Common. Her song, joined by the ensemble, with the strong, determined chorus line “rattle the fence” is to my mind the most impressive of a wide range of song styles which we’re offered during the show.
The final two characters are Meg (Anna Chloe Moorey), a suffragette campaigning in 1929 to get the laundry women to vote, and finally Ruby (Rosa Samuels), a young woman in the mid-1970s, running away from a violent male partner, and finding safety in a ‘battered women’s’ refuge.
The performers are all outstanding, and they accompany themselves on a wide range of instruments, supported by guitarist Jake Snowdon and cellist Ben Alexander.
“We walk tall, with our backs to the storm – see the difference we made”, they sing to us.
It’s a stunning evening that makes you think of all the parallels with today’s struggles for equality and of course the trauma of a plague