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The Girls - Phoenix Theatre

It may be funny for those who can stomach isolated punchlines delivered out of character, with sudden verve and confidence from women who understandably have doubts about posing ‘nude’ for a charity calendar, who just as suddenly retreat, joke delivered, back into a state of option-weighing and uncertainty. And it is ‘nude’, apparently, and not ‘naked’, though quite what the writers of The Girls (why The Girls? Why not Calendar Girls The Musical?) consider the difference between the two I have yet to work out.

I saw the play Calendar Girls back in October 2010, and from what I recall of it, it was such an inspiring evening, delivered with grace and gravitas. This musical is crass by comparison, and distinctly underwhelming. They might as well have had a group of lads singing, to the hymn tune ‘Cwm Rhondda’, “Get your tits out! Get your tits out! Get your tits out for the lads – for the lads! Get – your tits out – for – the – lads!” Which they sort of do, but it’s hardly titillating (sorry); it’s more like the sort of playground humour that even the schoolchildren in the musical – Danny (Ben Hunter), Jenny (Chloe May Jackson) and Tommo (Josh Benson) – have outgrown. The words of Stewie Griffin in an episode of Family Guy come to mind, in reference to a particularly dim guest character: “It’s like she’s fucking five!” If ‘she’ were The Girls, that’s an apt description indeed.

Perhaps I doth protest too much, but frankly if a production is to expose (pun acknowledged but not intended – he says) people on stage, it should do so properly. That is to say, ‘nude’ should mean ‘nude’. If a nude calendar is to be sold to the public, then that’s what it should be. Not with flower arrangements or an oversized Christmas cracker strategically placed, but simply nude. If what I’m saying goes against the grain of what actually happened in the 1999 charity calendar, in which certain parts of the human anatomy were concealed, then the show shouldn’t make such a fuss about it being a ‘nude’ calendar!

It’s hardly a new thing in theatre – it’s been around as far back as the day after theatre censorship ended in 1968, when Hair opened at the Shaftesbury Theatre. More recently London audiences saw it at the Noel Coward Theatre in a short-lived but excellent musical adaptation of Mrs Henderson Presents, and there again, no clothes meant no clothes. Here, Jessie (Michele Dotrice) insists, “No front bottoms!” Do it, or don’t do it – there shouldn’t have been rear bottoms for that character either (as far as I remember, there wasn’t).

The first half is a hard slog, with the company whining within the first few minutes about having to live through ‘another year in Yorkshire’, as though Yorkshire were akin to Hell. My recent experience visiting Sheffield for the day (well, a half-day really) to see a show there doesn’t tally with Yorkshire being so terrible, but even if it were a place to be endured rather than a place to thrive in, the prevailing attitude towards Yorkshire in this show is completely incongruent from that of anyone who truly has Yorkshire in their blood. Yorkshire people love Yorkshire. The apparent Yorkshire people in The Girls must be the only ones in human history who don’t. They had Yorkshire accents, for sure, but hardly spoke the way people in Yorkshire do: perhaps if they did, the show might have been called T’ Girls.

There are just thirteen musical numbers – in comparison, Mamma Mia! has 24, and Wicked has 29. The second half isn’t quite so bad as the first, but it doesn’t deliver enough to make the show overall a worthwhile experience. If you want to see a decently done and slick finale with a photographer, Half A Sixpence does it well in ‘Flash, Bang, Wallop’. The one in The Girls is too long and isn’t even a song. Some people’s heart-strings may have been tugged. I just longed to get out of there and descend into the London Underground and on my way home.

How ironic that a show that attempts to portray its characters as unconventional is itself so conventional that it’s frankly dull. Unlike the play, which very clearly brought to the audience’s attention how much money has been raised for leukaemia research, the musical is ashamed and embarrassed to say anything about it, even at curtain call, settling instead for a grudging recognition at the end of a long article in the show’s programme. That alone is good enough reason for me not to return to this frustratingly dreary show that could have been so much brighter and motivational. Avoid.

​One star.

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