Tim Firth and Gary Barlow, (the busiest man in show-biz) have created a very British musical with a fresh authenticity and a delicious dose of nostalgia. The original music and often witty book isn’t ground-breaking but it has subtlety and heart which brought the audience to tears and finally to their feet on press night. If the show itself wasn’t enough, Barlow came on at curtain call to give a beautiful rendition of ‘Dare’, which was even better than the Prosecco and mini fish and chips in the foyer afterwards.

Tim Firth wrote the screenplay for the film ‘Calendar Girls’ (2003) which was based on a true story of a group of Yorkshire ladies who decide to appear nude for a Women’s Institute calendar to raise money for their local hospital after the early death of one of their husbands. It’s a simple plot with no surprises yet in its new musical form, this character driven drama rarely loses pace.

At a time when British identity is being questioned, and somewhat depressing stereotypes dominate the press, the characters in this small village seem to represent the best of British, facing life’s challenges with ‘northern grit’ and wry humour. There are single parents, affairs and divorce here but nothing too challenging to an old fashion notion of gender roles and community.

What raises it above a middle of the road musical with mass appeal is the sensitivity and touching exploration of grief and ageing, the depth of the characters and some stand out musical numbers. ‘Kilimanjaro’ sung by Joanna Riding (Annie) is very moving account of living with grief and ‘My Russian Friend and I’ sung by Debbie Chasen (Ruth) is a darkly humorous number about feeling stronger with a bottle of vodka. But Claire Moore steals the show with her feisty, vulnerable, chaotic warmth as Chris, dragging her grieving friend Annie into the light.

'The Girls' run at The Phoenix Theatre has already been extended into July, buy tickets

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