There’s nothing like a West End Press Night. I walked the green carpet alongside Frank Skinner, Aneka Rice, Pixie Lott and Stephanie Cole amongst a whole galaxy of stars.
Following a ‘tryout’ last year at The Leeds Grand Theatre and The Lowry in Manchester, ‘The Girls’ boldly finds itself lighting up the West End. Gary Barlow and Tim Firth’s new musical – based on the 2003 film Calendar Girls, is a delight to behold.
The solid female cast, inventive design and score, make for a successful screen-to-stage transfer. Joanna Riding as Annie is a safe pair of hands,providing a poignant portrayal of marital loss; how will she cope alone in Tesco and Scarborough?
Firth’s production, Lizzi Gee’s musical staging and Tim Lutkin’s lighting,between them, overcome the problem of putting topography on stage; transporting us to Yorkshire Dales. Robert Jones’s set comprises moving kitchen cabinets, inventively framed, creating a dynamic landscape.
Debbie Chazen as Ruth with her “Russian Friend”, gives us a brutal, but hilarious glimpse at the place we feel most afraid to look when everything ahead seems too much to bear. There are some wonderful ensemble performances from the cast. Firth’s staging boasts half a dozen spot-on performances.
In a show with patchwork lyrics, plenty of Northern humour and more than a few cliches, the score is somewhere between mid-tempo and up-tempo, and breezes along for a good stretch with age-defying liberation.
The book is good enough as entertainment, with meaningful overtones of love and loss, rendered with authentic emotional effectiveness.
There is not a weak link in the casting, but the standout performance comes from the bereft Annie, so beautifully full of life. Things really get going in Act Two with the cheeky ladies doing traditional WI things like jam-making and floristry in the nude for their fundraising calendar.
At times Firth and Barlow’s production underuses its design and is a little laboured, but beneath its veneer ‘The Girls’ reminds us that true friendship can overcome even the most challenging of times.
Phoenix Theatre London, Buy tickets here from £25 – www.theatreperform.entstix.com
Review by Carl Woodward