Review: THE GIRLS at the Phoenix

Unlike the rest of Britain, I do not like Gary Barlow's music all too much, so when I heard that he was the man behind the musicalisation of the classic British story Calendar Girls, I was kind of disappointed to say the least. But that's a feeling that ran for the hills and I deeply regret after having seen this show, as it really is one of the best British musicals I have seen in years.

If you didn't know already, the story of Calendar Girls / The Girls follows a WI group in Yorkshire and their intertwining lives when suddenly, member Annie's husband dies of cancer. Annie wants to honour her husband's memory by replacing a sofa in the hospital waiting room that he hated with a brand new one and recruits the rest of the ladies in her WI to take part in a nude calendar. Heartbreaking and hilarious antics ensue and it's a great story that's told. For the first time in ages, The Girls is a West End show that really makes you cry with heartache and laughter on-and-off constantly throughout the show in a balance that works perfectly.

James Gaddas as John and Joanna Riding as Annie in The Girls

Gary Barlow's music is suprisingly musical theatre-esque, but not in the sense of fantastic pop tunes like Laurence O'Keefe would write, but more in that storytelling style of Jeanine Tesori and Sondheim. He, of course, is no where near that level of complexity or artistry yet when it comes to musical theatre music writing, but it's very clear that his standard pop-song talents were put to one side for this project and it works beautifully. The show's opening number 'Yorkshire' is a brilliant example of his ability to match a good storytelling song with his signature, unforgettable catch in the chorus and I'm totally obsessed with it. In fact, I haven't had that bloody song out of my head for about three months now and just had to listen to it again... it's so good! Tim Firth's book is of course incredible as well, without need of an explanation considering he wrote the original screenplay for the movie and the original stage play that came before the musical, too.

Claire Moore as Chris and Joanna Riding as Annie in The Girls

The cast are, of course, sublime too. Supporting cast members like James Gaddas, Ben Hunter, John Benson and more are fantastic; a true team. But of course, the main event are this show's wonderful ladies: Debbie Chazen, Sophie-Louise Dann, Michele Dotrice, Marian Mcloughlin, Claire Machin, Claire Moore and Joanna Riding. The best way to describe how well this fantastic team of women is in the fact that a group of them were nominated together this year for the Olivier Award for Best Actress in a Musical, a fantastic example of how well they work together as a team. The show deals with a wide variety of subject matters and it's impressive to see these women portray these stories with such raw honesty; stories about alcoholism, coming of age, cancer and more. While a couple of the actresses do have slightly bigger roles than the others, it doesn't negate how hard they all work to drive this piece forward together in a wonderful, beautiful way.

The rest of the team behind this show do a fantastic job as well. Robert Jones builds a fantastic set constructed almost entirely from the kind of wooden cupboards you'd find in a community centre, a genius way of making this show feel that little bit more British. His costume design is fantastic as well, as is Tim Lutkin's lighting design which complements them both brilliantly, too. Unlike many other shows from what I've seen, The Girls has choreographers for different staging elements of the piece: Lizzi Gee does the Musical Staging and Jos Houben does the Comedy Staging. Their work alongside Tim Firth's direction is equally fantastic.

Chloe May Jackson as Jenny, Ben Hunter as Danny and Josh Benson as Tommo in The Girls

The Girls really is one of the most heartwarming and feel-good British musicals to open in the West End in a while. Never have I seen a show with so much raw heart and passion balance out so well with pockets of sheer hilarity and we'd be lucky to see something like it again any time soon.

The Girls continues at the Phoenix Theatre. currently booking through July 15th. Tickets are available for purchase right here.

No comments