Writers: Tim Firth &Gary Barlow
Director: Tim Firth
Reviewer: Tom Finch
It’s been a film, a play and now with Gary Barlow adding a little razzle-dazzle, the true story of a group of women in the Yorkshire hills stripping off to pose in a nude charity calendar, has arrived in the West End as a musical.
While the film, written by Tim Firth who reprises his role here again, intricately layers the lives of the different women involved, here in its new musical form, the lack of story seeps through the cracks. Gone is the jaunt to Los Angeles and appearances on Jay Leno with the shooting of the calendar is instead made the eleven o’clock number. Theatrically this places the most comedic part of the story at the strongest stage of the show but it does mean there is a lot of meandering towards the inevitable conclusion.
Gary Barlow has long since proven himself adroit at writing hit songs but his work here is a mixed bag. Some songs pierce into the beating hearts of the characters with some clear and quite profound takes on life, death, grief and friendship. In particular, Joanna Riding (who as ever is in fine form) has the gift of a song in Kilimanjaro where alone in her garden she compares just living day to day after the death of her husband to climbing a mountain.
Other songs are less successful. It’s clearly been decided that each main character must have a solo song moment which, more often than not, develops nothing of the story and indeed holds up the action. This doesn’t mean they’re necessarily bad songs, it’s just hard to stay interested when they can be summed up by their title. I’ve Had A Bit Of Work Done is one such song that has nothing to add once the first line has been sung.
There is a real emotional core to this show, though. When a subject as immediate and emotive as cancer is being portrayed as sincerely and respectfully as it is here, it’s difficult not to get swept up. If at times things do get a little earnest, it’s probably worth it for the final pay off.
Robert Jones’ simple set, a hill made up of cabinets is functional and gets the job done but it’s most left up to Tim Lutkin’s superb lighting design to really set each scene.
The cast does a fine job of creating the world of the small Yorkshire village. Claire More brings a wicked smile and a killer voice to the role of Chris, the mischievous mother who dreams up the contentious calendar. Sophie-Louise Dann seems to be revelling in the role of glamorous Celia and Marian McLoughlin does all she can with an underwritten and one dimensional, WI group leader Marie.
There’s a lot of joy to be had in seeing The Girls but it does, despite being five years in the making, feel like it’s opened a little too early with too many creases yet to be ironed out. The ladies strip off, but it’s the show that feels a little bare.
Booking until 15 July 2017 | Image: Matt Crockett