REVIEW – The Girls (The Lowry)

The Girls at The Lowry, Salford © John Swannell
The Girls at The Lowry, Salford
© John Swannell
Date: 19 January 2016
Upstaged Rating: 

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.

Tim Firth, Gary Barlow & the original Calendar Girls credit Matt Crockett
The Original Calendar Girls     ~The Girls at The Lowry, Salford~   – Credit Matt Crockett


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.







-Kristy Stott

The Girls is at The Lowry until Saturday 30th January 2016 and you can get your tickets here.

REVIEW – The 56 (The Lowry)

Date: 19 May 2015
Upstaged Rating: 

At 3.40pm on May 11th 1985, a small fire broke out in the main stand at Valley Parade football ground during the final match of the season. Within four minutes the wooden structure was ablaze.

The Bradford City football ground fire was the worst fire disaster in the history of English football and this year marks its 30th anniversary. Fifty four Bradford City supporters and two Lincoln City supporters lost their lives in this tragic event. Sheffield based FYSA Theatre Company have produced this remarkably moving piece of documentary theatre wholly from real life testimonies and interviews with witnesses. This unique theatrical experience brings the audience closer to the raw emotions of the survivors and provides a truthful retelling of individual stories.

Under Matt Stevens Woodhead’s uncomplicated direction, the three actors give powerful and poignant performances as they look directly out into the crowd, each sharing their traumatic accounts – from the first signs of smoke through to their experiences in the hospital burns unit. The stage is set very simply with a wooden football stand construction and there is little movement from the performers, except when they move into the stand for a section of the play – it all makes for a fitting and respectful tribute.

Perhaps what makes this courageous play all the more authentic is the way that Tom Lodge, Will Taylor and Danni Phillips deliver the tiny details and idiosyncrasies of everyday speech. The piece also has a strong sense of camaraderie and pride and is freckled with humour, which makes for a convincing and touching representation, revealing solidarity, strength and community in the face of overwhelming tragedy.

The 56 certainly moved many people in the audience to tears on the night that I attended. However, the company also managed to establish a resounding sense of Yorkshire pride, bravery and community when they described people helping each other to safety during the atrocity and then supporting one another through the aftermath.

The 56 is a considerate and emotional tribute to all who were affected by the fateful events on May 11th 1985. If you do get the opportunity to see this production, I would urge you to go.

All profits from The 56 are donated to the University of Bradford Plastic Surgery and Burns Research Unit. 

-Kristy Stott