Date: 19 January 2016
Get a ticket and go and see The Girls. It is a phenomenal production. A thunderous applause and a well deserved standing ovation greeted the passionate performers and production crew on the press night. Being able to witness everybody around you in the stalls leap to their feet, cheering and clapping is a rare occurrence and a worthy testimony to show how fabulous The Girls really is. Just go.
The Girls is a heartwarming, super charming and quintessentially English new musical inspired by the true story of Yorkshire’s real Calendar Girls – a group of Women’s Institute members who, in memory of one of their husbands, produce a nude calendar to raise money for Leukaemia Research. This new musical charts the journey of a group of ordinary ladies as they achieve something incredible and explores the effect that their strength has on everyone around them.
The writing collaboration between the master of popular songwriting, Gary Barlow and Tim Firth who wrote the film and the play for Calendar Girls, is a perfect recipe for success. Add some outstanding performers to the mix and you have a musical which is not only highly entertaining but one which fully connects with its audience. Hilarious and heartbreaking all at the same time, I spent most of Act 2 looking through a blur because my eyes were so teary from laughing and crying at the same time.
Robert Jones’ set design of olive green drawers and cupboards is suggestive of quaint, rural England. Providing the perfect canvas for the action to unfold, whether indoors or on a Yorkshire hill top, in this close-knit and supportive community.
This production is packed full of superb musical numbers with that unmistakeable Barlow hook, the lyrics are loaded with wit and most importantly we can relate to them. ‘Who Wants a Silent Night?’ is delivered with pizzazz by parish organist and single mother Cora (Claire Machin). Retired school teacher Jessie (Sara Kestelman) sings a poignant and uplifting ballad about growing older, ‘What Age Expects’ which was a highlight for me. With tunes so catchy and memorable many of the audience left humming and singing their way out of the theatre.
Joanna Riding is outstanding as Annie – putting on a brave face as her husband John (James Gaddas) battles against cancer. Their partnership on stage is believable and touching; humorous and real – providing the hope and inspiration for the calendar girls extraordinary triumph. Claire Moore gives an energetic, brave and brilliant performance as close friend Chris – she is immediately likeable, defiant and loyal – she is not afraid to speak out against the traditional Women’s Institute values, but she does so with humour and conviction which the audience laugh, clap and cheer along with.
The leader of the Women’s Institute Marie, played admirably by Harriett Thorpe, struggles to get the women to fall in line with her ideas. Ex air-hostess and golf enthusiast Celia played brilliantly by Vivien Parry and struggling alcoholic Ruth, played with expert timing by Debbie Chazen complete the line-up. The tightly woven sub-plot featuring Chris’ son Danny (Ben Hunter), love interest Jenny (Chloe May Jackson) and his best friend Tommo (Josh Benson) gives a further injection of comedy and shows the effect that the women’s bravery and influence can have on the younger generation.
The Girls is a fantastic musical – I really hope that it gets a well-deserved airing in the West End – but don’t just take my word for it – go see for yourselves.