Production images have been released for The Thunder Girls, based on Melanie Blake’s best-selling debut novel which has been adapted for the stage by the author and receives its world premiere at The Lowry this week. Having already broken the venue’s box-office records for a new play, this new ‘playsical’ features a stellar cast including Coleen Nolan, Coronation Street’s Beverley Callard, Carol Harrison (EastEnders; Death of a Salesman, National Theatre; Ripen Out Darkness, Royal Court) and West End musical star Sandra Marvin (Hairspray, Chicago, Stepping Out) who quit Emmerdale to join The Thunder Girls.
The Thunder Girls is a true celebration of women with a powerhouse of female creatives: Melanie Blake playwright and bestselling novelist is joined by producer Angela Squire and acclaimed director Joyce Branagh (sister of Kenneth Branagh) to bring to life this theatrical sensation.
With all four of The Thunder Girls actresses in their 40s, 50s and 60s, one of the most under-represented demographics in the UK entertainment industry, this production also shines a light on the creative team’s working class roots – another area which is under-represented in the entertainment industry.
The Thunder Girls are Chrissie, Roxanne, Carly and Anita the eighties pop sensation who dominated the airwaves, their faces on every magazine cover, millions of fans worldwide, constantly at the top of the charts until it all fell apart. 30 years later the play takes us to the reunion dinner from hell when lead singer Chrissie tries to reunite the band she dumped. Chrissie is desperate to salvage herself from bankruptcy after being conned out of her fortune by her toy boy husband. But is there a price which can heal the wounds? Or maybe some friendships never die, even if you want them to? Each character will sing one original song as we follow an ‘80s girl group who reunite 30 years after greed, envy and ego tore the band and their friendship apart.
With performing arts running in the Branagh blood, Joyce Branagh (Twelfth Night, Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre in York; Aladdin, Lawrence Batley Theatre; Two, Oldham Coliseum; Measure for Measure, Lancaster Castle) has a flair for Shakespeare, new writing and comedy and has worked with some of the UK’s most prestigious touring venues for almost 25 years. She’s no stranger to the North West and recently received two nominations at the Manchester Theatre Awards where she won ‘Best Fringe Performance’ for Boomtown Gals and is the perfect fit for The Thunder Girls.
Carol Harrison takes on the role of Chrissie, former lead singer of The Thunder Girls, who at the height of the band’s success, ditched the others to pursue a solo career, taking their manager, Rick, her bandmate’s boyfriend with her. Chrissie trampled on anyone and everyone to get to the top and stay there. For decades Chrissie maintained her stardom whilst the other girls’ lives and careers fell apart. Now Chrissie must face the former friends and bandmates. But can a price be put on pain, anger, heartache and betrayal?
Coleen Nolan takes on the role of Anita. The former pop has been in hiding for over thirty years since an international tabloid scandal left her humiliated and tired of the fame game. Anita’s grudges over the injustice of her downfall have been left to fester for decades and she has a major axe to grind. Now a very different woman from the girl they knew 30 years ago – if Anita finds out anyone is trying to rip her off or mislead her again, there will be hell to pay.
Beverley Callard takes on the role of Roxanne, the former band member who holds the balance of power at the reunion dinner. Roxanne’s wounds are the deepest as Chrissie didn’t just steal her career when she broke up the band, she stole her man. Roxanne has nothing left to lose. For her revenge might be sweeter than reconciliation and it has been a long time coming.
Sandra Marvin takes on the role of Carly, the youngest member of The Thunder Girls and the peace maker of the group. Fiercely loyal and level headed, Carly has always been the beating heart of The Thunder Girls. Now on the brink of 50, Carly has finally found her voice – but at the band reunion from hell, will Carly be the one to bring the group together? Or will the bitter betrayal she faced at the hands of corrupt music industry, force her hand? Carly has always played it nice and paid the price, but now that a second chance is on the table, justice could be sweet.
They say write about what you know and having lived through many band reunions as one of the UK’s most powerful music managers, Melanie Blake has lived and breathed The Thunder Girls. Melanie came from nothing but was inspired by ‘80s television to believe that she could become whoever she wanted to be. She started her career at Top of the Pops working with the biggest names in showbiz from Destiny’s Child to The Spice Girls and went on to become a music manager to some of the biggest names in pop.
Steve Cowton, head of theatre operations at The Lowry, said: “We love being able to host exciting new work. We’re particularly looking forward to welcoming The Thunder Girls premiere as it’s a story that is rooted in the North West and we’re sure our audiences are going to love the show.”
Joyce Branagh added: “I’m very excited to be working on The Thunder Girls – especially as it’s a story driven by women over 50 (pretty unusual in drama unfortunately) who show us throughout the play how vibrant, complex, vulnerable and strong they are. Working-class lasses who had a short burst of fame and glamour – but they haven’t forgotten their roots. The mix of down-to-earth straight-talking and glitzy pop-star glamour is going to be great fun to create. And at its heart is the huge power of female friendships and how important that is when all the cash, glitter and fame has gone…”
The Thunder Girls plays at The Lowry until Saturday 28th September.
Photo credit: Rob Martin and Blake & Squire