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 The Theatreguide.London Review

The Girls
Phoenix Theatre 2017

We have a hit on our hands here. 

Yet another home-grown musical based on a film, much in the spirit of Made In Dagenham or Kinky Boots, The Girls looks sure to settle in for a well-deserved long run. 

This is, of course, the warm, happy, feel-good musical by Gary Barlow and Tim Firth of the warm, happy, feel-good film by Firth and Juliette Towhidi, of the warm, happy feel-good true story of the middle-aged women whose discreetly nude calendar raised millions for charity. 

But it's not just the movie plus songs. While retaining the warm humour of the film, Firth has deepened and enriched the story, giving each of the ladies a personal drama leading up to the decision to pose.

And so the making of the calendar, which came midway through the film (which went on to find drama in the fallout of the unexpected success), is here a thoroughly satisfying climax to several journeys toward emotional liberation. 

What I'm trying to say, I suppose, is that The Girls is a thoroughly enjoyable musical with just enough emotional weight to make it move as well as entertain, and that's a rare-enough quality to put it several notches above many others. 

The individual plot lines range from a mother who has repressed her natural high spirits to provide a respectable role model for her son, through the retired schoolteacher resentful of being marginalised as elderly and the choirmaster hiding the jazz diva within, to the woman tired of denying that her suspiciously youthful figure has had some surgical assistance. 

Each woman's story is treated with a successful blend of amusement and respect and, not incidentally, each gets a strong dramatic song to carry her to the moment of liberation. 

Pop singer-songwriter Gary Barlow has created an eclectic and thoroughly theatrical score, ranging from a jazzed-up Christmas Carol (Who Wants A Silent Night?) through a comic celebration of boob jobs (So I've Had A Little Work Done) to power anthems of inspiration like Sunflower and the surely-hit-bound Dare. 

Though the programme lists thirteen songs, there are at least twice as many, some just snippets of melody or single-verse numbers to add musical power or underscoring to a moment. 

Not least among the pleasures of The Girls is seeing a stageful of mature singer-actresses strutting their stuff, with every one getting her moment to shine. 

Standouts are Claire Moore as the bravest of the group, Sophie Louise Dann as silicone-enhanced one, Claire Machin as the surprisingly hip choirmaster and, at the show's dramatic centre, Joanna Riding as the widow whose hope of a modest memorial to her husband started it all.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - The Girls - Phoenix Theatre 2017   

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