The Girls, Phoenix Theatre, London — joyous, cathartic

From left, Claire Machin, Sophie-Louise Dann, Joanna Riding, Claire Moore and Debbie Chazen in ‘The Girls’ © Matt Crockett/Dewynters

The crucial to this winning musical makeover of Calendar Girls (right here rather awkwardly stripped of the “Calendar”) comes early on in the poignant enjoy song “Scarborough”. Although John bustles about in the garden, his wife Annie is suddenly struck by what his cancer diagnosis may possibly imply: their everyday life of shared domestic tasks (folding the duvet cover shoving open the stubborn back door) changed irrevocably by his absence. It is a matter-of-reality and really moving evocation of grief. And all through, songwriter Gary Barlow and playwright Tim Firth draw us into characters’ reflections via song, adding depth and doubt. Their thoughtful use of music expands a story which is all about what we reveal and what we conceal and about celebrating the bodies in which we live and die.

Firth (who also wrote the earlier film and play based on the correct story) tends to make a further case for revisiting the material by shifting the concentrate. Right here the renowned disrobing — in which the ladies of a Yorkshire Women’s Institute pose nude, with a few strategically placed buns, for a charity calendar — comes close to the finish. The emphasis is on the journey and on the personal misgivings overcome in the quest to face down the grim reaper — and to purchase a a lot more comfy hospital sofa in John’s memory. The mix of discomfort, comedy and practicality runs by way of the piece, neatly caught in the friction amongst wry lyrics and delicate melodies in many songs.

Is it cheesy? Yes, in locations (a sceptic may well also notice the absence of rain in the opening hymn to the beauties of Yorkshire), and some of the 1-liners land with all the subtlety of an overbaked rock cake. Meanwhile the characters file rather also neatly into types, there isn’t time to deal with their troubles correctly and the conflict introduced by the not-very-rebellious teenagers is pretty tame. But the girls are richly brought to life by the fine ensemble in Firth’s production, which deftly balances humour and heartache. Especially striking are Claire Machin as the choir-mistress with a devilish side and Claire Moore as Chris, Annie’s daft, loving buddy, who comes up with the calendar concept.

At the show’s heart is Joanna Riding’s quietly moving performance as Annie, who picks up on the themes in “Scarborough” with a later, heartbreaking number about the practicalities of bereavement. It’s flawed, for positive, but this joyous, cathartic musical looks set to see out a lot of calendars.

To April 22, thegirlsmusical.com

Section: Arts

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