Phoenix Theatre ★★★★★
WHILE with the BBC’s Let It Shine Gary Barlow continues his search for a boy band worthy of performing Take That songs in a touring show, he can at least relax in the knowledge that for his musical version of one of stage and screen’s most enduring stories, he has found the perfect group of females.
The Girls relates the famous, true story of a group of middle-aged Yorkshire lasses who, inspired by the cancer death of a close friend’s husband, bared almost all for a calendar in aid of leukaemia research.
A comedy about cancer could be box-office death. But Barlow, who displays his knack for catchy but emotional songs, and co-creator Tim Firth know the pitfalls.
The cast, led by West End star Joanna Riding as Annie, the wife of cancer victim John (James Gaddas), tackle a subject that used to be whispered about using tender, soaring ballads.
When we get to the scene for which everyone is waiting, the audience have paid their emotional dues.
This is where ladies of a certain age, but of every size, shape and character pose for photos that raised £5million.
In a cathartic moment, and in the least pervy way possible, there is a life-enhancing thrill to seeing cast and characters shed clothes and inhibitions while keeping dignity fully intact.
It says a lot about Barlow and Firth’s judgment that it’s not the show’s flesh that leaves the strongest impression, but its warmth and wit.