The Girls, a brand new musical by Gary Barlow and Tim Firth tells the story of the legendary Calendar Girls. The performance unfolds in Yorkshire where a group of diverse older women meet weekly to partake in traditional Women’s Institute activities. As a tight-knit group of friends, they embrace each other’s flaws and go through ups and downs together.
The scenery is beautiful, set designer Robert Jones does a magnificent job as he uses a multitude of cupboards to create the effect of the rolling hills of Yorkshire, it really sets the scene of a close village in which all the character’s lives intertwine.
Annie, one of the ladies of the WI, loses her husband John to cancer which causes the women to join together and fight their inhibitions to create a nude calendar in order to raise money for the hospital in his memory.
Joanna Riding provides an exceptional performance of Yorkshire lass Annie, she appears humble and brave as her husband John (James Gaddas) struggles to battle cancer. Their connection captures the hearts of the audience, Gaddas’ humour and wit builds a character that portrays a pillar of hope and inspiration throughout the show. Joanna’s emotionally charged solo at the end of the first act is poignant and is inevitable to give every audience member goosebumps.
Flamboyant Chris is played by Claire Moore, she gives an excellent performance of the kind hearted and ambitious close friend that consoles grief-stricken Annie. Her defiance against conforming to traditional Women’s Institute standards is admirable and her ability to step out and break the rules fills the production with an indescribable energy as she goes against all odds to make a difference. Moore is incredibly funny and her outspoken nature has the audience in fits of laughter throughout the entirety of the show.
In amongst the Women’s Institute is Ruth (Debbie Chazen) a struggling alcoholic, Jessie (Sara Kestelman) a retired school teacher in need of a new lease of life, Cora (Claire Machin) a church choir master desperate to break out of her shell. Celia (Vivien Parry) a sophisticated lady stuck in the constraints of how the other ladies at her golf club look down on her, and finally Marie (Harriet Thorpe) the leader of the WI who is in need of a serious reality check as she attempts to get the ladies to conform.
Besides from the moving story of the calendar girls, there is a subplot of Chris’ young son Danny played by Ben Hunter who has his eye on rebellious newcomer at the school Jenny (Chloe May Jackson.) Egged on by his brash friend Tommo (Josh Benson) Danny begins to unwind from his usual uptight self. Making his professional debut, Hunter’s comedy timing is impeccable as he follows in the footsteps of his mother by having fun and breaking the rules. The teenagers not only supply comedy but the use of different generations in the show makes it more appealing and relatable to all ages.
The soundtrack is superb, the orchestration is uplifting and the lyrics are funny and relatable. Who Wants A Silent Night being a stand out number in the show, it is cleverly written and had the audience crying with laughter. The harmonies are tight and I enjoyed the variety of vocal tones from each of the ladies which creates a a real sense of community within each number. Dare lifts the energy of the show as the ladies step out of their comfort zone and rebel against what they are expected to do because of their age.
The Girls is a truly British musical that has the perfect balance of humour and emotion, it is an empowering show that defines feminism, emphasises the importance of strong female friendship and makes me proud to be a woman. I see high hopes for The Girls and I’m confident about a West End transfer.
The Girls is on at The Lowry until the 30th of January and tickets are available here.