After receiving 5 star reviews in London’s West End, Gary Barlow and Tim Firth’s award-winning musical comedy ‘Calendar Girls’ is currently touring the UK.
The musical is inspired by the extraordinary true story of a group of women from Yorkshire, who set about making a calendar in memory of John Baker, husband to one of the women, who passed away just a few months after beginning treatment for blood cancer. All proceeds raised from the sale of the calendars would go towards purchasing a settee for the relatives’ room in the hospital where John was treated. To date, the original Calendar Girls have raised millions for blood cancer charity Bloodwise.
The musical follows this remarkable group of women of Knapley Womens’ Institute, who come up with the idea to pose nude, whilst doing day-to-day activities – baking, knitting, gardening – for their latest calendar, with a focus on life in Yorkshire, and the after-effects of this calendar on, not only the women themselves, but on their community.
With last year’s calendar consisting of 12 views of local churches, this year, the girls opt for something a little different. This year, they will let it all hang out. Blazing a thrilling new trail, one with considerably bigger buns, the ladies propel the WI into the 21st century, uprooting tradition, and planting new seeds, changing the very nature of their worlds, and the world around them. This year, the ladies are on a mission to show that they are so much more than plum jam, Victoria sponge and knitting needles, establishing themselves as fitting figureheads for women everywhere.
‘Calendar Girls’ is a funny, joyous, celebratory, heartwarming, life-affirming musical, that is beautifully British.
The cast is spearheaded by a glorious group of beautiful women. Sarah Jane Buckley shines as Annie, the wife of John, in a performance that packs a real emotional punch. Particularly affecting when singing about how her life will inevitably change with the loss of her husband, Buckley demonstrates a great emotional range, and skilfully imparts some measure of her grief on the audience, who are so moved by her. However, Annie does not let her grief get the better of her, and tries to overcome it by posing for the calendar, and she blossoms as she participates in something so meaningful. Rebecca Storm takes to the stage with an incredible performance as Annie’s best friend Chris, who first came up with the idea for the calendar. Lesley Joseph is maturer lady of the group Jessie, stressing that she is not defined by her age, and will not do what it expects of her.
Julia Hills is hilarious as Ruth. Ruth is the perfect model of a traditional WI member, seeing to and arranging many of the group’s activities that take place, and providing refreshments, often going above and beyond (as when she sets out to bake 3 scones, and finishes with 147). After a bit of Russian courage, however, Ruth gains a new lease of life, one she was prevented from living by her cheating and unpleasant husband.
Lisa Maxwell is a joy as Celia, former air hostess and current member of a golf club whose standards for dress she often falls below. With a bit of restoration to the chest area, Celia has no qualms about being featured twice in the calendar. Sue Devaney is delightful as single mother and daughter of the local vicar Cora, whose alternative medley of Christmas carols might not be so welcome in a house of God. Judie Holt is excellent as prim and proper WI chairman Marie.
Strong support also comes from Phil Corbitt’s charming John, his performance moving but encouraging of hope, from Danny Howker’s and Tyler Donn’s comic duo, Danny and Tommo, and from Isabel Caswell’s rebellious Jenny, who provides a lesson in how worthy campaigns such as this one can appeal to younger generations.
Robert Jones’ exquisite panoramic design recreates the living, breathing landscape of rural Yorkshire, with its rolling hills and constantly changing sky, which transforms from sunrise to sunset, day to night, in the blink of an eye.
Gary Barlow and Tim Firth’s score is particularly well-written, with profound thematic elements that enhance the narrative arc of the show’s story-line. Some songs are weighted with a poignancy as their singers are engulfed with grief. Some demonstrate a proud and admirable defiance, whilst others still are encouraging, uplifting, daring.
A show that trumpets life, ‘Calendar Girls’ is a satellite dish for sunshine – radiating light, joy and happiness, following the rays of the sun and reflecting them right back.
A sunflower of a show, ‘Calendar Girls’ nourishes the soul, and walks the coastline of your heart.