Writers: Gary Barlow and Tim Firth
Director: Matt Ryan
Designer: Robert Jones
Reviewer: Julia Beasley
Getting naked for charity was a cheeky move by 11 female friends in North Yorkshire over 20 years ago. Modestly poised with sunflowers, teapots and currant buns, their Women’s Institute nude calendar started life as a local controversy. It was all quietly subversive and heaps of fun.
Little did they know that they were challenging social norms and would inspire countless other nude charity calendars. Or that their story would be turned into a film in 2003 starring Helen Mirren and Julie Walters. Or that Take That’s Gary Barlow and his childhood friend, songwriter Tim Firth would turn their story into the current musical that is touring the nation.
The real-life women’s original aim was pretty modest – to buy a comfy settee for the relatives’ waiting room at the hospital where one of their husbands died. To date, they have raised a staggering £5million for Bloodwise blood cancer charity.
If titillation is what you seek, the Calendar Girls musical may not be your cup of Yorkshire tea. This is a feminist tale of strong female friendship, charting a route from shared grief to collective empowerment. The middle-aged women don’t have perfect bodies. But when bereaved Annie’s’ best friend Chris persuades the rest of the group to abandon their embarrassment and pose in the all-together, their inner goddesses are released in all their warrior glory.
Musically, it’s a show of two halves. If you can get through some initial clunky rustic scene-setting, you’ll enjoy belting diva-ish numbers from a tight ensemble cast.
Calendar Girls is a feel good, sunny musical that tells of the bravery, beauty, and humour of female friends. It’s great good fun, but much less about bare buttocks than brass necks.
Runs until 20th July 2019, then touring | Image: Contributed