Review Round-Ups

Did the critics think Gary Barlow's The Girls blossomed?

Joanna Riding stars in Barlow and Tim Firth’s new musical

Holly Williams, WhatsOnStage

"You'd have to have a heart dry as an old sunflower seed not to moved by Gary Barlow and Tim Firth's musical version of The Calendar Girls. Based on the – by now very familiar – story of a Yorkshire WI group who posed for a nude calendar to raise money after the husband of one of their members, Annie, died of cancer, the musical follows the hit film and play of the story (both also by Firth). "

"It's a cosy affair, with a pleasing score from Barlow, but not without flaws. Structurally, the show is lop-sided: they don't hit on the calendar idea until the interval, giving the first half the slight feel of treading water, even if it does let us get to know the dying man who plants sunflowers "because they always find the light".

"The Girls blossoms into a feel-good hit as bright as a field of sunflowers. Sometimes, we need to turn towards the light."

Michael Billington, The Guardian


"Take That’s Gary Barlow and Tim Firth have collaborated on a delightful musical that is far superior both to the 2009 play, Calendar Girls, and to the 2003 movie on which it was based. Rather than seem like a piece of cynical exploitation, the show suggests the story has now achieved its ideal form."

"Sometimes Firth’s jokes have a touch of the Carry Ons: at other times, as when a harassed mum declares, "If Jesus had had teenage kids, the Bible would have been very different," you hear an echo of Alan Bennett. But the musical works beautifully because it suggests the calendar was a way of vanquishing private demons. These women strip to conquer."

"[One of the reasons] for the show’s success is that it destroys the traditional demarcation between composer demarcation between composer and lyricist. Barlow and Firth collaborated so closely, with each invading the other’s territory, that the show has a seamless quality rare in jointly authored musicals."

Fiona Mountford, Evening Standard


"The Girls is certainly agreeable, but definitely from the cosy rather than groundbreaking school of theatre."

"The perpetual problem confronting Firth, who also directs, has been the inherent lack of conflict in this overwhelmingly feel-good narrative."

"This new reworking is the most sensible, using the disrobing for the calendar – and the deployment of the best line, 'We’re going to need considerably bigger buns' – as an end point."

"The songs are pleasant, with poignant ballad "Scarborough" the standout number. Riding is touching and the rest of the cast are undeniably game."

Paul Taylor, The Independent


"There is no covering up the fact that this show is a fresh and joyous attempt to reinvent the material rather some tired rehash with songs."

"The lyrics have a wry observational wit that's ideally suited to tracing the permeable boundary in the show between quirky humour and heartbreak. It’s because they are rooted in everyday reality that Joanna Riding’s superb Annie is able to achieve such unforced poignancy when she delivers the two beautiful ballads "Scarborough" and "Kilimanjaro". "

"If you think that "wiping away tears of laughter and sorrow" is one those activities that, like "rolling in the aisles", only happens in reviews, you give should this show a visit. I suspect that it's going to be on a long time. "

Andrzej Lukowski, Time Out


"Unfortunately Barlow has gone a bit 'method' for this musical version of Tim Firth’s hit Britcom Calendar Girls… There are a couple of nice ditties (notably "Sunflower") but Barlow pretty much joins in with the prevailing British musical theatre trend of sprawling, patter-heavy songs full of kitchen sinky observations on the minutiae of life in rural Yorkshire."

"Joanna Riding makes for a warm, dignified lead, and Firth – who directs – weights it all nicely: John’s declining days are dealt with gracefully, and there’s a good balance found between heart-warming MOR cosiness and actively quite ribald humour (ie there are boobs)."

"It’s nice, then, but the songs meander and so does everything else: it’s an hour longer than the film, but tells less of the actual story (the musical finishes with the photoshoot; the film; the film deals at length with its aftermath)."

Mark Shenton, The Stage


"Like Billy Elliot, it stays faithful to its sense of time and place, but also deepens and amplifies the sense of intimate connection to the audience with a series of instantly catchy and moving songs, co-written by the film's original co-screenwriter Tim Firth, newly joined by pop songwriter and performer Gary Barlow."

"There's a hauntingly beautiful and radiantly lovely performance from Joanna Riding, who we see becoming widowed as her husband John (James Gaddas) succumbs to cancer, and she is gloriously partnered by Claire Moore, as her best friend Chris, a woman with an effervescent practicality."

The Girls runs at the Phoenix Theatre until 22 April.

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