Theatre review | Melanie Blake's The Thunder Girls at The Lowry starring Beverley Callard, Coleen Nolan, Sandra Marvin, Carol Harrison and Gary Webster

The Thunder Girls at The Lowry: Beverley Callard, Carol Harrison, Sandra Marvin
The Thunder Girls at The Lowry: Beverley Callard, Carol Harrison, Sandra Marvin
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As women we are all products of our experiences and the decisions we make along the way but we have one thing in common – we age.

We get older even if we are extraordinarily beautiful creatures living in the manufactured glaze of pop stardom.

The Thunder Girls at The Lowry: Beverley Callard as Roxanne

The Thunder Girls at The Lowry: Beverley Callard as Roxanne

The glamour may be frozen in the minds of fans and the album covers but reality can be a lot harsher.

After all, there’s only so far Botox can go.

It is this very world which Stockport-born writer Melanie Blake, whose remarkable personal story starts as homeless teen then runner at Top of the Pops and celebrity agent, used as inspiration for The Thunder Girls.

INTERVIEW: Melanie Blake

The Thunder Girls at The Lowry: Carol Harrison as Chrissie

The Thunder Girls at The Lowry: Carol Harrison as Chrissie

Privy to the very worst of pop star behaviour, she first produced a best-selling novel which she has re-written it for the stage

And this week the story which she first penned 20 years ago inspired by the scandals unfolding in front of her eyes, made its stage debut with a stellar cast of powerful women and in front of an audience which included her friends and supporters along the way.

From her very first agenting client Claire Richards from Steps to other scions of the music scene and celebrity circuit (I spotted Sabrina Washington from Mis-teeq), they were all there to see her take on a unique world and for once putting women in their 40s, 50s and 60s front and centre of a story, combating the industry invisibility usually proffered to women who have lived a little.

The stage play, directed by Joyce Branagh (yes ,that is Sir Kenneth's sister), is in necessity framed differently to the novel itself, the drama here played out through the mechanism of the dinner party at the start of the book.

The Thunder Girls at The Lowry: Sandra Marvin as Carly

The Thunder Girls at The Lowry: Sandra Marvin as Carly

When the estranged Thunder Girls receive a gold-encrusted invitation to most-successful member Chrissie’s mansion 30 years after their short-stint as world-dominating pop princesses goes pop and they all fall out – they cannot resist for all sorts of reasons.

Starring Carol Harrison as Chrissie, Blackpool’s Coleen Nolan as Anita, Sandra Marvin as Carly and Beverley Callard as Roxanne, the performance was always going to be fiery and they do not disappoint as the band reunion, fuelled by decades of resentment, jealousy and disappointment – not to mention gallons of fizz – descends into a painful heart to heart which at one point becomes a highly entertaining physical fight.

Secrets and vulnerabilities come pouring out in a performance which is both hilarious – you can literally hear Melanie Blake’s northern bluntness come pouring through the dialogue - and relatable. After all, none of us are getting any younger.

Beverley Callard undoubtedly lights up the stage in the first half of the performance, she is remarkable as the secret-keeping, alcoholic, Roxanne who has spent decades as a single-mum in near poverty and is desperate – though maybe not desperate enough to bow down to Carol Harrison’s ruthless Chrissie.

The Thunder Girls at The Lowry: Sandra Marvin, Coleen Nolan

The Thunder Girls at The Lowry: Sandra Marvin, Coleen Nolan

Callard flicks the switch from comedy to searing and relatable honesty perfectly and is key to the comic timing of the entire performance

By the second half, Nolan’s captivating Anita has made a late and dramatic entrance, throwing the cat amongst the pigeons once again.

This is a play with music – not to be confused with a musical – and the cast throw themselves into a few songs along the way, particularly the singers on the cast – Coleen and Sandra – interspersed with a bit of pop star lip-synching.

Their final number brings the audience to their feet singing along to the anthemic ‘We are Thunder Girls’ and the scene is set for several standing ovations.

This is a must-watch production compelling not just because if its fascinating subject matter but because of the chemistry between the talented cast as they produce a performance that is as endearing for its ad-libbing as its one-liners – and is living proof that women are always that young girl on the inside.

NICOLA ADAM