★★★★ | The Girls, Phoenix Theatre, London
There are several women of a certain age taking their clothes off in the West End.
No, these women are not strippers – they’re in a musical comedy called The Girls based on the famous calendar girls of Yorkshire who took their clothes off for a calendar to raise money. And it’s no surprise that the brave actresses in this show take their clothes off to pose, just like the real women!
It’s a good time for the audiences in a show written by perennial favourite and Take That member Gary Barlow, along with Tim Firth (who co-wrote the movie). It provides lots of music that carry the Take That sound – top 40 middle of the road – enjoyable even at times when the storyline is a bit uneven and a bit too simple.
Almost everyone knows about these girls (well, they are not exactly girls – they are ladies), and if you haven’t seen the 2003 hit movie (which starred Helen Mirren and Julie Walters), then ‘The Girls’ tells their story again. Anna (Joanna Riding) has lost her husband and she wants to raise money for a memorial couch at the hospital where he was treated to replace the broken down couch. Chris (an excellent Claire Moore) comes up with the idea (after seeing a Dutch women’s stripper calendar) that instead of having their usual bake sale, why don’t they pose, not naked, but nude, for a calendar? She rallies her local women’s club – W1 – but of course there’s dissent – especially by leader Marie (Marian McLoughlin) – who vehemently opposes the idea – she’ll have none of that – she doesn’t want to destroy the reputation and image of the club where they are trying to be role models for the younger generation. Of course, as you can guess the women do eventually disrobe for a calendar and the rest is history.
The Girls is a very lighthearted (and very lightweight) musical which combines hummable tunes with a weak storyline. But it’s credit to all of the actresses who actually disrobe on stage – they do it with such grace and elegance (and lots and lots of humour) that I wished the show would’ve stretched this bit even more (no, not just to linger more at the naked women but to celebrate their openness and non-reserve!). The women are all excellent, but Michelle Dotrice as Jessie really shines as the elder woman who takes if off with such candour. Another storyline in the show goes nowhere – Chris’ son Danny (a good Ben Hunter) and his friend Tommo (Josh Benson) try to impress the rebellious Jenny (Chloe May Jackson) but the storyline gets dropped, and Tommo disappears for most of the second act only to come back with one line. The set is a bit confusing (bookcases litter the stage – piled very high, used as a door as well, and an ugly scary tree pops down every now and then). But the catchy tunes such as ‘Yorkshire’ and ‘Dare’ will have you humming for days afterwards. The Girls will put a smile on your face and will remind you that being ‘nude’ is not a big deal!
The Girls is now playing at the Phoenix Theatre until July, 2017.