The Girls review - February 2017

It blossoms and blooms, but there's nothing flowery about it

With a string of successes under his belt, including Finding Neverland and the current BBC show Let It Shine, Take That star Gary Barlow has wangled his way firmly into musical theatre, and is clearly here to stay. Collaborating with close friend and original screenwriter of Calendar Girls, Tim Firth, the pair have joined forces to create a musical version of the hit film.

Like a sunflower, The Girls is incredibly bright; following the well-known story of the WI women who raise money for a memorial bench by posing nude, not naked, for a calendar. It's a story that touches the heart, and the musical manages to breathe new life into the beloved British tale, making it all the more joyful.

An incredibly talented group of ladies lead the production; Joanna Riding is is wonderfully warm as Annie, alongside the lovely Claire Moore as Chris. Sophie-Louise Dann and Judith Street are brilliantly funny as Celia and Jessie, whilst Claire Machin is outrageously good as choir mistress Cora, delivering the brilliant “Who Wants a Silent Night?”. You can't help but feel that this group of women who, even in real life, have the greatest love for each other.

The story is pulled about a bit here and there, focusing on the making of the calendar, whilst the film much focuses on the fallout. In this sense, leaving out the latter could make for a rather sappy story. But it doesn't. Tim Firth's script is wonderfully funny and light, and whilst Gary Barlow's songs may not have you humming on the tube (in fact, I struggle to recall an entire chorus), there's nothing sickly about the graceful way in which Clarky's illness is dealt with or the way that Ruth's wayward husband is handled.

Although, on the whole, The Girls has the potential to be rather fluffy, there's nothing to say that this isn't a good thing. In the West End, a true story about a group of Yorkshire women sits amongst tales of celebrity singers and the French revolution, and it couldn't be more welcome. Incredibly heart-warming, and sure to raise a smile for even the sourest theatregoer, The Girls blossoms and blooms, but there's nothing flowery about it.

Reviewed by Susannah Rose Martin.
14 February 2017, Phoenix Theatre