Tim Firth wrote the film and the play of ‘The Calendar Girls’ based on the true story of 12 members of the Rylstone & District Women’s Institute in Yorkshire who took their clothes off to produce an alternative calendar in memory of a friend (John Baker). What made it a worldwide sensation was the ladies were over 50 and yes they were naked however there were strategically placed items from traditional WI activities, such as knitting, flowers, cakes and of course appropriately sized buns. They raised a phenomenal amount of money for Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research (https://bloodwise.org.uk).
Of course, the raising money was only the icing on the cake, it was the journey of these women and the stories behind why each one went through with it, is what pulls at the emotions and why the film and play have been so successful.
Now, Tim has teamed up with Gary Barlow (!!) to create a musical which had a West End run at The Phoenix Theatre and is now on tour around the UK.
Fortunately, Tim wanted a fresh take on the original story and not just the play interspersed with a few songs. The musical adds a different level to the story: where the character is alone with their thoughts, we get to hear that as a song, it’s also a method for more light and shade when music is involved and a very good opportunity for some comedy tunes to make us giggle.
The story unfolds over about a year and the passing of time is depicted easily and shows the growing illness of John in order to deal with his passing and the catalyst to the stories of these women. Friendships are strengthened, community spirit is enforced, confidences soared, women empowered, secrets admitted, tears and laughter shared, and time to squeeze in young love and pieces of life’s advice. It’s all jam-packed in.
In the programme, it does state: The result is a musical score that is a patchwork quilt of songs that incorporate different bits of different songs. I have to agree with this, although I am sure they were thinking a beautiful quilt, the first piece gives us a quick insight into all the characters with a depiction of their work, leisure and family life. It’s a big cast to get through and all singing a piece, which meant there was lots to take in and try and link it all up as to who was partnered with whom. There were a couple of other songs which I felt were a little disjointed.
Most of the songs however musically were pretty good, although there wasn’t any catchy tunes I was whistling as I was leaving. I couldn’t hear all the words, which no doubt would have made an impact for me connecting to the characters. The musical scene I most enjoyed for depth was ‘My Russian Friend And I’.
The show was certainly a good length but certainly there are time constraints with such things, and the story had to move along quickly, particularly as there was large cast and all their stories to share. It took me a while to engage and warm to the characters, if I am honest. I couldn’t emotionally connect with all of them and not all their stories could have much depth. Therefore the big ‘empowerment’ aspect of it was lacking for me however I did warm up in the second half and enjoyed the characters reaching their potential.
The main scene, the naked photoshoot, was excellently executed and presented and was filled with warmth and comedy. With the storyline, the actors had to get their kit off at some point although with a cast of good quality names, I thought they might go for the flesh coloured underwear but the ladies did it! I guess they wanted to be honest to the story and what it represents, but they probably enjoyed their own feelings of confidence and empowerment by doing such a thing. Well done!
The supporting characters were all great. Plenty of light heartedness and comedy around the story which made it a very entertaining evening and worth going to see. The audience were chuckling, laughing out loud, cheering, and sniffling and a standing ovation at the end.
I now need to watch the film…..
Annie: Sarah Jane Buckley
Cora: Sue Devaney
Ruth: Julia Hills
Marie: Judy Holt
Jessie: Ruth Madoc
Celia: Lisa Maxwell
Chris: Rebecca Storm
This review first appeared on GrapevineLIVE
The Regent Theatre