MusicalNorth East & YorkshireReview

Calendar Girls the Musical – Leeds Grand Theatre

Reviewer: Jennie Eyres

Music and Lyrics: Gary Barlow and Tim Firth

Director: Jonathan O’Boyle

Calendar Girls the Musical is based on a well known and much loved true story. Seven women ranging in age and levels of feistiness from a WI in Yorkshire who had a fantastic idea, which at the time was also a little ‘out there’. Following the death of one member’s partner the ladies decided to create a WI Calendar with a difference to fundraise for a sofa at Skipton General Hospital’s relatives room in his name.

In real life this is a fantastic and interesting story, worthy of being made into a film (it was in 2003), a play (that too in the same year) and now a musical with music penned by self-confessed middle-aged women’s favourite, Gary Barlow. But does it work?

In some aspects, the answer is yes but in others not so much. The cast for example is strong, with accomplished performances across the board and standout acting from Amy Robbins as Chris (best known for her characters in Coronation Street and The Royal), Tanya Franks as Annie (a big change from drug addled character Rainie in Eastenders) and New Seekers star Lyn Paul as Jessie – scenes and songs from them were truly excellent.

While the show, unsurprisingly is almost devoid of men, Graham MacDuff was excellent in the role of Rod, Chris’s husband and generally all-round good egg who ends up taking the actual photos for the now famous calendar.

The set was excellent, reminiscent of village halls around the country, but particularly in Yorkshire where the musical is set and this was not missed by the local audience in Leeds who clearly appreciated the references and songs such as Yorkshire that popped up (a lot) throughout the show.

The songs, however, were not of the usual Barlow calibre, mostly instantly forgettable with the exception of Yorkshire, which was reprised that many times throughout the show that it was impossible to forget even when actively trying. They were pleasant, occasionally humorous, at times poignant but there are no real wow moments and because of this there were no real opportunities for the cast to impress us vocally.

The first half takes a while to get going, despite the seemingly frenetic nature of the first three or four scenes and not a lot happened – there was a lot of set up. The second half by contrast went quickly, and almost glossed over the fact that the calendar was actually made and the impact it had in the years that followed. In fact, we never even saw the calendar pictures, real or with the actors and that meant the show ended awkwardly, the audience unclear as to whether the walk down was in fact the end, or just the next scene.

There is also not a huge amount made of the ‘nude’ scene and a number of opportunities for laughs and cheeky humour (pun intended) were missed. Given that this is the unique selling point of the story, the actual scene when the photos were shot was a bit of a let down, much fumbling with dressing gowns, over protection of modesty and wearing of visible flesh coloured clothing meant it did not have the impact it really needed. There is more nakedness on the cover of the programme than in this highly choreographed, slightly perplexing scene.

As a whole the show is fun, pleasant and enjoyable. It’s the kind of thing that you’d happily watch on Sunday teatime, with Last of the Summer Wine feel good humour and a warmth about it that is hard to knock. But the impact is nowhere near that of what these women actually did, and your reviewer is not sure it quite lived up to their standards.

The real Calendar Girls were there at this performance, and while chatting to one of them in the toilet (as you do) I asked her for her opinion. “Very different to the previous (play) version,” she said, “But I quite enjoyed it”. As did your reviewer. Quite enjoyable it was.

Runs until 11th November 2023

The Reviews Hub Score

Quite enjoyable

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The Reviews Hub - Yorkshire & North East

The Yorkshire & North East team is under the editorship of Jacob Bush. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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