Calendar girls was originally a film and then a play written by Tim Firth, based on the real-life story of how some ladies from a Women’s Institute group in a Yorkshire village ended up taking-off their clothes for a naked but tastefully discreet photo-shoot for a calendar to raise funds for a blood cancer charity.
Tim Firth and Gary Barlow met when Tim was a judge on a song writing competition ‘A Song for Christmas’ on the tv show Nationwide which Gary had entered. The pair discovered they had been brought up in the same town and became friends. Calendar Girls the Musical , the product of their collaboration, first opened in the Grand Theatre in Leeds and The Lowry Theatre in Manchester before a run at the Phoenix Theatre in the West End.
The story is set in the Yorkshire village of Knapley and the opening song ‘Yorkshire’ sets the scene. Many of the local ladies are members of the Women’s Institute, admitting they joined when they were younger to impress their future mothers-in- law.
Annie (Sarah Jane Buckley) and Chris (Rebecca Storm) have been friends for 40 years. Annie’s husband John is diagnosed with leukaemia and sadly dies within a short space of time. Her friends at the WI come up with the idea of being more adventurous with the topic for next year’s calendar with the hope that a ‘nude’ calendar will raise enough funds to buy a new sofa for the relatives waiting room at the hospital where John was treated.
We get to know other members of the WI and see how they are persuaded to take part in the photo-shoot. There is Cora (Sue Devaney), a single mother and rebellious vicar’s daughter who is warm and very funny but devoted mum to her son Tommo (Tyler Dobbs). Ruth Madoc is excellent as the retired school- teacher Jessie and up for anything so long as there are ‘no front bottoms’ on show!
Celia (Lisa Maxwell) is quite keen to take part; a former air hostess she is proud of her body and is quite honest about the fact she’s ‘had a little work done’. Quiet and down-trodden Ruth (Julia Hills) does not feel able to take part and resorts to the vodka bottle. The song ‘My Russian Friend’ I think is so beautifully sung and so sad.
However, Ruth join her friends for the shoot and the clever use of buns, teapots and knitting the ladies’ modesty is protected.
There are some very sad moments in the show but these are offset by the comedic performances of Cora’s son Tommo and Chris’s son Danny (Danny Howker). Along with Isabel Caswell who plays Jenny, the daughter of the haughty leader of the WI, these young actors convincingly portrayed the teenagers’ reactions to events taking place.
The set for this production was quite beautiful depicting a view across the Yorkshire Dales and also the lighting was extremely effective.
Reviewed by Elizabeth Cowell
FOLLOW WEST END WILMA