The Girls – Review – Leeds Grand

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six naked white women stand behind a giant christmas cracker against a white background all smiling

The Girls – Review

Leeds Grand, December 2015

by Sandra Callard

The long-awaited premiere of The Girls has opened at the Grand Theatre in Leeds to great razzmatazz and excitement. Gary Barlow and Tim Firth‘s adaptation of the phenomenally successful film Calendar Girls, the by-now famous story of the Yorkshire Womens’ Institute members from a Dales village who raised millions for a cancer charity by producing a nude calendar of themselves. Firth wrote the script for the film, and also for this new stage adaptation, along with the lyrics. Barlow, the hugely successful songwriter from the band Take That has provided the music.

The theatre is packed to capacity for the premiere. There are even crowds outside hoping for a glimpse of Gary Barlow. The red carpet is out on the steps and the atmosphere is electric with anticipation of that rare thing, the unveiling of a brand new musical.

The unusual stage set is a mountain of cupboards. These represent the hills of the Yorkshire Dales, a kitchen or the rooms of the Women’s Institute with amazing ease. We are introduced to the participants in this amazing story. Annie’s husband John, an apparently fit and healthy 53-year-old, is diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. This cancer of the blood is moving rapidly to termination. Annie and John are beautifully played by Joanna Riding and James Gaddas. Their love for each other is staunch as the disease takes hold. The Women’s Institute women, helpless in the face of tragedy, try to pull something positive out of the situation. They come up with a nude calendar of themselves to sell and raise money for a cancer charity.

Cast of The Girls musical and the original ladies from the calendar stand naked behind a giant Christmas cracker

Original Calendar Girls with the cast of The Girls

“Melodic and searching”

The driving force behind the plan is Chris. Skilfully and endearingly played by Claire Moore as a tough and determined Dales woman. Claire, along with Annie persuades the rest of the girls to bare all, with the slight addition of strategically placed buns, jars of jam or flowers. The calendar has gone down in history. Everybody has seen it. But this production goes deeper into the psyche of the women. The music is an effective backdrop to their feelings.

Each new song pulls out a facet of a WI member’s personality with amazing effectiveness. ‘Mrs Conventional’, ‘So I’ve Had a Little Work Done’ and the hilarious ‘My Russian Friend and I’, tell much about the women’s personalities. The beautiful anthem ‘Yorkshire’ will be hummed or sung by many as they go about their day. Some of the songs are forgettable, but mostly they are melodic and searching. We may even have a couple of hits amongst them.

The story, of course, is all about The Girls. But the supporting cast of husbands and children on the periphery do a cracking job with a mixture of bemusement, pride and horror. In our adoration of the original girls it is easy to forget the effect their success must have had on their families. Their disbelief and confusion is clearly shown. I particularly liked Jeremy Clyde as Dennis and Stephen Boswell as Colin as they came to terms with their wives’ decisions.

“Universal and inspirational”

Barlow and Firth hail from the red rose county across the Pennines. Nevertheless they are made honorary Yorkshiremen for their skill and devotion in bringing this new musical to fruition. The Yorkshire women it honours are as tough and dedicated as their Dales pedigree would expect. Firth and Barlow, Lancastrians though they may be, have done them proud.

This was a night for Yorkshire, in Yorkshire, before Yorkshire people, and unanimously they loved it. It remains to be seen whether a West End crowd will feel the same if and when it hits London. The story is universal and inspirational in its appeal wherever it is set. It just happens that we got there first.

images: Matt Crockett

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