REVIEW: Calendar Girls the Musical (Sunderland Empire) ★★★★

Has celebrating the naked female form ever been as much fun?

Following on from the book, the movie, the stageplay (and obviously the calendar) the latest outing for the Knapely WI is now set to the music and lyrics of Gary Barlow and serves up another timely reminder that out of adversity comes strength.

Most people are now aware of the premise – to commemorate the life of Annie’s husband, who died too early from leukaemia, she wants to buy a comfy sofa for the hospital visitors lounge. Desperately thinking of ways to raise the money needed, she decides that a calendar of her WI friends in traditional WI activities is something they can do quite easily. Of course, any product needs a hook and in this case it is that the ladies will be totally naked, save for some very strategically placed decorations.

Ably, yet somewhat nervously, supported by amateur photographer Lawrence they embark on bringing a whole new set of meanings to quilting, pottery, flower arranging and baking with a soggy bottom.

The songs are typical Barlow; well crafted, clever word play, quite safe but there again they serve to support the story not overshadow it. The cast, including the wonderful Denise Welch, the pixie-like Sara Crowe and the super talented Anna Jane Casey manage to maintain the belief that they could indeed be members of the local WI who you meet whilst shopping or walking the dog, although you’ll never look at them the same way again.

Director Matt Ryan keeps the pace well, lining up the jokes with a relaxed expectation but never failing to land the punchlines without things feeling laboured or inevitable.

Defiantly a great night out, especially if you, or a relative, have ever been a member of the Jam & Jerusalem brigade.

Reviewed by Andy Bramfitt


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