Culture critic Holly Reaney enjoys an evening in Wolverhampton watching their hilarious pantomimeWritten by Holly Reaney on 13th December 2017
Review: ‘The Girls’
Anna Brown heads to London to review 'The Girls', a rip-roaring and emotional musical based on the film 'Calendar Girls'
Written by Gary Barlow and Tim Firth, The Girls is a musical inspired by the film Calendar Girls (2003). Within the intimate setting of The Phoenix Theatre, we experienced raucous laughter and heart-wrenching emotions, often within seconds of each other.
“Differently to the film and prior stage show, we see the families of the women
This musical follows a Yorkshire Women's Institute and its members' lives. Protagonist Annie Clarke (Joanna Riding) is a Yorkshire born and bred woman who we see struggling with her husband John's cancer and her movement to raise the money for a commemorative sofa in the hospital ward. When her best friend Chris (Claire Moore) has the idea to do a nude calendar to raise the money, hilarity ensues for the women of Knapely and their families. Differently to the film and prior stage show, we see the families of the women, drawing close attention to the problems of marriage through Ruth (Debbie Chazen) and Eddie, the relationship between mothers and sons ("Do as I say, not as I do"), and the participation of youth in the WI through Marie (Marian McLoughlin) and Jenny (Chloe May Jackson).
The opening number, reprised throughout, concerns everyday life in Yorkshire. As John's (James Gaddas) illness worsens, Annie's heartbreak is interspersed with the familiar tune. We see the effect on every member of this tight-knit community following John's passing and grieve with them in entirety. The ensemble cast focuses their entire energy on portraying their grief and love onstage magnificently.
“This musical plays off the stereotypes of the WI, such as the presentation on broccoli, 'this green and pleasant land' and the cake baking competition
This musical plays off the stereotypes of the WI, such as the presentation on broccoli, "this green and pleasant land" and the cake baking competition. John's insistence that Cora (Claire Machin) "jazzes up" the Christmas Carol singing and Chris's entry of an M&S cake into the competition are small examples of rebellion which culminates in the groundbreaking calendar.
Machin's solo, "Who Wants A Silent Night", is the first breakout moment for a minor character within the production and it is a stand out for me. It is the first time we see her as more than an aside and it is refreshing change from both the film and stage show, making The Girls a show in its own right. Personally, this was the first bit that made me sit up in my seat and take notice; her smile and freedom is infectious and it was wonderful to experience.
“The beauty of this show is that it moves on, but not insensitively
The continued use of the sunflower, both in promotional marketing and the show itself, keeps the WI in the plot. Its importance to John and Annie increases its importance for us, the audience. "The sunflower fights to find the sunlight in the in the sky." John's passing is poignant and I have no shame in telling you that tears were shed. The beauty of this show is that it moves on, but not insensitively. It is not forced but we experience the catharsis of grieving with the characters whilst life in Yorkshire moves on around them.
The show itself perfectly embodies John's sentiment that "the last phase is the most glorious"; the final moments brought the audience figuratively to its knees, but physically to its feet in rapturous applause. The focus on the fragility of age and how beauty changes is represented best in the unabashed self-love of both Jessie (Michele Dotrice) and Celia (Sophie-Louise Dann). Jessie develops from thinking of nudity as "on a need to know basis" to embracing the idea that one should act not "the colour of your hair, "but act the colour of your heart". Celia owns her modifications and loves her body no matter the "little bit of work done". This message shines forth through both the powerful lyrics and the skill of the performers.
“The cast were all passionate and seemed to experience real joy in showcasing both raw emotion and their bodies onstage
Whilst it may be difficult to transfer this show to other countries, due to the focus on he quintessentially British WI and setting in Yorkshire, it does not at all detract from the magnificence that is this show. The cast were all passionate and seemed to experience real joy in showcasing both raw emotion and their bodies onstage. This is best shown by lead actress Riding collecting donations outside the theatre as the audience were leaving for Bloodwise, a blood cancer research charity.
Total honesty here, you will leave this show wanting to join the WI. It gives you this wonderful sense of pride for people you don't know and even nostalgia for a time you never experienced, but an endless hope for humanity. It is entirely triumphant. You are missing out if you don't manage to get down to the Phoenix Theatre in London to catch it before the end of the run (15th July 2017).