REVIEW: THE CALENDAR GIRLS (Orchard Theatre) ★★★★

Back in 2017, Gary Barlow and Tim Firth unveiled their new musical ‘The Girls‘ in London’s West End. The show ran for six months at the Phoenix Theatre and despite positive reviews, didn’t quite make the impact it should have. Now, a revised version of the show (titled The Calendar Girls) is touring the UK and I went along to check it out last week at The Orchard Theatre in Dartford!

The Calendar Girls, based on the true story of a group of women from the Yorkshire Women’s Institute, who decide to make a calendar, to raise money to buy a couch for a local hospital where their friend’s husband passed away.

The story is quite simple: woman has an idea to make a calendar, convinces her friends through the medium of song to join in, the making of the calendar transpires to be a journey for each of the women and forces them to address personal battles they are fighting inside.

I saw the show three or four times when it was in London and LOVED IT! The songs, the story, the emotional heart it has and so I was excited to finally catch it on tour. But I was shocked as to how much it has changed since the London production and I still can’t decide if it is for the better or the worse.

The touring production features a line up of recognisable names – from This Morning TV host Fern Britton, to Coronation Street’s Denise Welch but casting celebrities in this production doesn’t quite seem to let the show live up to its real potential. Several of the songs have been drastically changed from the original production and are more spoken poetry, set to music, rather than the belting tunes they used to be! This could be seen as intentional to try to develop the depth of the story being told but I think it mostly comes down to the performers vocal abilities which is a shame.

As Cora, Scottish comedian Karen Dunbar gives a very different performance to Claire Machin in the West End. A lot of the comedy written in this part falls flat in her performance and the show-stopping number ‘A Silent Night’, which Machin belted out whilst girating on top of a car, has now been changed to a very ‘safe’ song, performed around a piano.

West End legend Anna-Jane Casey shines (as always) as the lead character Annie. This lady can do no wrong in the world of theatre, from Cats to Billy Elliot and Spamalot there is nothing she can’t do and this show is another fabulous notch on her ever-glowing CV. Fern Britton, as leader of the WI, Marie, gives a strong acting performance and Sara Crowe is a fun version of Ruth.

The Girls and The Calendar Girls are two very different shows that shouldn’t be compared. Despite all the changes, parts that worked better than in London and parts that didn’t work so well, I still came out beaming with joy at the production and would thoroughly recommend it to all of you to go and see whilst it is on tour.

Reviewed by West End Wilma


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