Howard Goodall is these days ubiquitous as a brand name of popular music, whether as Classic FM broadcaster, TV presenter of documentaries, Classic FM’s own composer in residence, or TV theme tune wizard.
A scene from Girlfriends at Ye Olde Rose and Crown, London Photo: David Ovenden Descripta
He has also had a less financially profitable career in writing original musicals, although the first of them, The Hired Man, has the best and most authentically English sounding score of any British musical of the last 30 years and has been revived regularly since.
His second musical Girlfriends was originally premiered in 1986 in Oldham and subsequently briefly at the West End’s Playhouse, but has all but disappeared from view. Now an ambitious fringe company, based above a pub at the northern-most point of the Victoria Line, has brought it back at last - and even if the bare bones, rudimentary staging they have given it is sometimes scrappy and threadbare, it is nevertheless the most inspiring musical revival of the year.
That’s largely due to the emotional force of Goodall’s yearning, aching melodies that float and linger in the air and memory. Even if the five-strong orchestra for strings, brass, clarinet and piano do sometimes threaten to overpower the singers, and although the show could also do with a more coherent book, Goodall’s music is so exhilaratingly good at establishing its atmosphere of nervous anxiety and simmering personal tensions on a World War II air force base that I was constantly reminded of the recent West End revival of Terence Rattigan’s Flare Path.
That’s high praise indeed and the youthful cast of Lydia Milman Schmidt’s production avoid some of the show’s more earnest, sentimental pitfalls to give it a robust, gritty sense of reality.