Take That’s Gary Barlow and writer Tim Frith collaborate to breath fresh life into the Calendar Girls story
The story is a familiar one; a spirited group of Yorkshire housewives decide to pose nude for their WI calendar in order to raise money for charity, in memory of one of their husbands who had died of cancer. Such was the success of the venture (the group has now raised more than £5 million) in 2003 their story was made into a film starring Helen Mirren and Julie Walters and a hugely successful stage version followed in 2008.
Both the play and the film were penned by Tim Firth, so I was surprised that he felt there was potential for yet another incarnation of the much-told tale. Would it just be his stage play with a few songs thrown in?
But this is so much more! Thanks to his clever collaboration with exceptional Take That songwriter and long-time friend Gary Barlow, the pair really do add to the story. Through the songs, they are able to show us the inner thoughts of the characters and give us a better connection with their emotional journey. When Joanna Riding (Annie) sings 'Scarborough', I challenge you not to cry - full of pathos it’s a beautiful exploration of the everyday minutiae of a marriage tinged with the anticipation of loss. While 'Sunflower' and 'Yorkshire' are classically uplifting musical anthems… 'Dare' definitely has an added touch of Gary Barlow’s pop magic.
The cast are all impeccable, as you’d expect, particularly Joanna Riding (Annie) and Claire Moore (Chris) who really carry the bulk of the story. Claire Machin (Cora) and Sophie-Louise Dann (Celia) and Michele Dotrice (Jessie) play the remainder of the Calendar Girls – along with a stellar performance from Debbie Chazen (Ruth) who sings 'My Russian Friend and I' and turns up to the photoshoot slightly worse for wear (I’m pretty sure it wasn’t scripted for her to fall off the table - but hilarious all the same!).
I don’t think I’m giving the plot away to tell you the nude photshoot is the climax of the show! The women have great fun with it and it’s done tastefully but honestly – there seems to be genuine support and camaraderie which makes it even more believable.
Along with the women special mention should go to James Gaddas, who plays John with such humour and sensitivity and to the three talented teenagers Josh Benson, Ben Hunter and Chloe May Jackson who play Tommo, Danny and Jenny.
Give The Girls a go – I promise you’ll come away moved and cheered … and singing "One more year in Yorkshire...."!
The Girls is at The Phoenix Theatre, London until July 15, 2017