Review: Get This Calendar Girls Remake In Your Diary

The Girls, Phoenix Theatre ★★★★☆

By Sam Smith Last edited 87 months ago

Last Updated 04 March 2017

Review: Get This Calendar Girls Remake In Your Diary The Girls, Phoenix Theatre 4
Here come the Girls. Photo: Matt Crockett

So successful was the nude calendar created by the Rylstone and District Women’s Institute in 1999, and the 2003 film Calendar Girls that followed their endeavours, that it could be almost easy to forget that behind these triumphs, and the money that they raised for charity, still lies an all too real and common tragedy.

One of the strengths, however, of this new musical version of the story (which recently premiered in Leeds) is that it rightfully and respectfully acknowledges the figure of John Baker (renamed as John Clarke) whose tragic death from cancer in 1998 first led to the creation of the calendar. The Girls is ultimately a feel good piece, with a positive message about embracing life, but it does not shy away from the tragedies, both great and small, that everyone faces in their lives, and can have the audience howling with laughter one minute and almost crying the next.

Joanna Riding as Annie. Photo: Matt Crockett

There are enormous feel good numbers such as Yorkshire that creates the backdrop for the entire action, and Who Wants A Silent Night? which sees the production at its most hyperbolic. Nevertheless, the relationship between John and his wife Annie is rendered extremely sensitively with songs revealing an attention to detail as they highlight memories and shared experiences. The musical’s portrayal of Yorkshire may feel a little too homely and rosy, but its whole purpose is to conjure up an image, and it still includes a few darker undertones concerning class and societal expectations. The musical is also very droll and contains many humorous ‘throwaway’ lines that each seem to set different audience members off laughing!

The Girls was written by Tim Firth, who directed the film and arguably less successful stage version of the story, and Take That’s Gary Barlow. The latter’s score is pleasing as it captures something of the ‘Yorkshire spirit’ while supporting the clever lines well so that emotions are brought out to the full.

Claire Moore as Chris and Joanna Riding as Annie. Photo: Matt Crockett

Occasionally the story drags as only half of the film’s plot is covered, and the show’s climax is the actual shooting of the nude calendar, which is executed with charm, humour and nothing to offend even the most conservative theatre-goer. By the same token, however, the structure provides more space to focus on six female characters, and to explore how the participation of each in the calendar aids their own self-realisation and personal fulfilment.

The cast is extremely strong with Joanna Riding as Annie, Claire Moore as Chris and Sophie-Louise Dann as Celia standing out in particular, while the show is supporting Bloodwise, a charity aimed at beating blood cancer.

Booking until 22 April 2017 at the Phoenix Theatre, 110 Charing Cross Road, WC2H 0JP. Tickets (£25-£69.50): 0844 871 7629 or visit The Girls website.