A NEW musical based on Calendar Girls has arrived in Salford at The Lowry Theatre, Elise Hughes went along…

The new musical “Girls” by Tim Firth and Gary Barlow now being performed at Salford’s the Lowry Theatre is wonderfully eccentric, comical and tear-jerking.

Based on Calendar Girls, a story of the Rylstone and District branch of The Women’s Institute’s alternative fundraising for a replacement couch in a visitor’s wing in a hospital; it looks at the lives of a bunch of whacky WI Yorkshire women, their husbands, their children, and their passionate bid to raise money in honour of their loved one.

An effortlessly talented cast was created by casting director, Sarah Bird, including Olivier Award winner, Sara Kestelman. The main cast were on-stage best friends Claire Moore and Joanna Riding, whose chemistry was warm, fun, and full of youth. The two were centred at the heart of the story, their chemistry majorly added to the entertainment of the show, and it was impossible not to feel any affection for them.

In addition to these musical regulars were newbies to the professional stage, Ben Hunter and Chloe May Jackson, who provoked laughter throughout the theatre with their awkward teenage relationship and their likeliness to each other’s parents – a particular comedic moment was Hunter’s innocent admission, “Yorkshire, I am a virgin”. A hilarious stage debut they should be extremely proud of.

The show begins in song, exploring the monotonous and tedious lives of the girls in a town in Yorkshire; their every day routine, whether it be the late 7:30 school bus, or the guy buying the same bouquet of flowers every day that his wife had on her wedding day. Each character portrayed a unique story, carefully created and performed with exceptional talent and passion.

Each song was beautifully written, often either comically or emotionally; either way always arousing a powerful reaction from the audience, and so catchy you’ll find yourself singing them for days!

Many of the songs explore the empowering message of the beauty of the female body. Many of the girls are extremely conflicted at the idea of the “alternative calendar” at first, citing their various issues with weight and age; other issues with pride, and the importance of being a role model for their children. Yet, a musical number following this then stressed the importance of “never doing what age expects of you” as the cast tore off their robes and exposed all to the audience – completely “nude”, “I will now prove that a naked older woman can be artistic”.

The Girls 5This scene was equally comic genius as it was iconic and a celebration of older women and their ever-lasting beauty, a quote to note is that the “last stage is the most beautiful”. The character of John, played by James Gaddas, referenced to the beauty of an older woman to the beauty of the sunflower, which later becomes the symbol of their cause and a representation of their love, after Gaddas’ uplifting character passes in a moving scene after having battling cancer.

Set Designer, Robert Jones’ set included various cupboards of different sizes stacked on top of each other, used as exits, entrances, a place to store props and apparatus to climb on top of, representing the hills of Yorkshire. The set design changed throughout, with several back drops of the sun and the moon, and a tree that would be placed on stage at different moments.

The most magical set design was the reveal of the sunflowers near the end of the show, that the characters had earlier planted on the hill top, forcing us all to be dewy-eyed. The stage was impressively decorated with sunflowers all around, making for an emotional moment because of the significant meaning behind the sunflower.

After the show, the cast were straight off the stage and outside the theatre, collecting money for a leukaemia charity, something that is rarely seen in theatre. The entire team from The Girls are truly wonderful, heart-warming people, and the result of Firth and Barlow’s partnership is witty, amusing and enchanting.

After waiting long enough for the theatre to premiere a new musical that meets the standards of the many famous classics, I am satisfied that Firth and Barlow have well and truly delivered. A hysterical and moving production, and the cast and team deserve all the success they get. An absolute must-see, now it’s just time to wait for the soundtrack to be released!

By: Elise Hughes

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