Last night I went to see the musical comedy Gary Barlow co-wrote based on the calendar girls. I wasn’t expecting much. I was pleasantly surprised and by the end of the show the cast of talented actors had really won me over. The Girls is a feel-good, entertaining, light-hearted and very enjoyable night out. I whole heartedly recommend it.
Taking my seat in the dress circle 15 minutes before the show was about to start I was taken aback by the interesting set design. It was not what I expected (what I expected being the inside of a kitchen, which would have been stereotypical and boring) but it was incredibly clever; it showed off the rolling Yorkshire hills, making them out of cupboards and drawers with teapots and the like balanced atop. This was a simple way to transition between indoor and outdoor scenes and it worked very well.
I can’t lie, I didn’t expect to enjoy this show and when it started a part of me tried very hard to resist its understated charm. I didn’t want to like it. And for the first 15 minutes I wasn’t a big fan. I found the opening song was very catchy but felt the performance slowed down after and I found my attention wandering. This was somewhat saved by the emotional singing of “Scarborough” by Joanna Riding who gave a great overall performance; it really tugged at the heart strings. Though, still, I resisted and didn’t allow myself to fully enjoy what I was watching. The following upbeat, exciting and hilariously performed song “who wants a silent night” enraptured me and from that moment on I was laughing and crying throughout the whole performance along with the rest of the audience.
There was a moment in the first act where a certain character passes away – this being the reason for the calendar being made. At the time I thought the moment of his death was far too cliché and on the nose. He literally walks up through the hills as the rest of the cast looks on, into what one can only assume to be heaven. How sweet. How emotional. How gross. I cringed. It was sad and it broke my heart but I cringed. However, looking back at this moment how could director (and co-playwright) Tim Firth have done anything else? We as an audience needed to see that heart-breaking moment in as much detail as possible. We needed to feel the same devastation as the characters on stage. We needed to understand why creating this calendar was so important. And we did. Oh, boy, we did. Through this moment and countless others Firth forced us to fall in love with the characters and sob over the death of someone we had only been introduced to an hour earlier. By the end of the show I was struck by how much I had truly fallen in love with each and every individual.
The first act ends on the so-stupid-you-have-to-do-it idea to create a nude calendar and I didn’t want to stop watching. In the majority of shows I see by the time the interval arrives I’m grateful for it; all I want to do is stretch my legs. With this one, time had flown by so quickly I thought only half an hour had passed since the show started and was very ready to see more. Perhaps this is because of how excellently the passing of time was portrayed on stage – the passing of time through songs such as “Yorkshire” and “Scarborough” was understated excellence. And luckily, I didn’t have to wait long to see more. The second act was just as brilliant as the first if not more. Filled with even more excellent songs (shoutout to “so I’ve had a little work done” and “my Russian friend and I” being my personal favourites) and heart-warming interactions between characters. You will see a few nipples, there will be perfectly nude bums on show and you will be grinning from ear to ear watching the incredible cast of actresses be empowered, standing nude on stage.
Overall, the show was brilliant. With excellent acting and singing (a rarity in a lot of musicals) it was perfectly crafted, very well cast, enjoyable, funny, sweet, heart-warming. Just super entertaining. If you’re looking for a fun night out (and with Mother’s Day round the corner who isn’t) please consider seeing this show – I thought I would hate it but by the time the curtains closed the entire cast had won me over and had me eating my words. This is an empowering, honest and very real piece of theatre. Everyone in the dress circle was on their feet applauding, and it was richly deserved. We left the theatre singing and humming along to the tune of the songs and what else could be the mark of a great musical than that?
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As another note – members of the cast were stood in the entry way to the theatre as we departed asking for donations to Bloodwise, a blood cancer charity that the real-life calendar girls have raised millions for after the passing of John Baker due to non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a type of blood cancer. If you do to see the show please consider giving something to what is a great charity in the fight against cancer.