It seems to me that the West-End is trying in vain to find the new equivalent of ‘Billy Elliot’. I have recently sensed a theme of new “home grown” musicals being based off quirky and classically British films. ‘Bend it like Beckham’, ‘Made in Dagenham’ and now ‘The Girls’. All these a bit hit and miss, and all with disappointingly short runs.
‘The Girls’ by Gary Barlow and Tim Firth, is based off the real life story of a Yorkshire WI group who scandalously posed for a nude calendar and in doing so raised millions for Bloodwise (a blood cancer research charity). This was done in the memory of one of the group’s husband who died of blood cancer. Their story was originally made into a film, ‘The Calendar Girls’, and then into a play of the same name. Firth and Barlow obviously figured that a musical should naturally be the next evolution of the story.
It’s a bitter-sweet, yet heart-warming story. It deals with themes of grief and what to do with life after the loss of a loved one. Joanna Riding’s performance as the widowed Annie is beautifully honest and relatable. Her chemistry with Best Friend Chris (Clare Moore) was particularly strong. In fact it was the chemistry the whole group of girls had that was a strong point.
I, however, found that the show dragged. Like, really dragged. The first act was as slow as a lazy afternoon walk through the hills of Yorkshire. I often found myself thinking “Do you really have to sing about that?” Plus quite a few of the songs were not particularly memorable. Thankfully the pace picked up in the second act, when the group hilariously got their kit off. Each member of the group had their own battles to face and their own reason to do the calendar. When it finally came round dis-robing the event was all the more riotous because of those battles. Props to the fantastic group of actors for such inspiring confidence! I’m not going to lie, I saw quite a few nipples.
I’m a bit on the fence with The Girls. For me it was a problem with pace. A whole half hour could have been shaved off the 2 hours 45 minute running time in my opinion.
The Girls is on at the Phoenix Theatre and is closing on the 15th of July. But a national tour is starting on the 15th of August in Leeds!
To find out more about the work Bloodwise go to–> https://bloodwise.org.uk/