Writers: Tim Firth & Gary Barlow
Director: Matt Ryan
Reviewer: John Roberts
Tim Firth is no stranger to Calendar Girls having penned the original movie screenplay in 2003 and then the stage production in 2008. Now working in partnership with singer/songwriter and lead singer of Take That, Gary Barlow, the pair have re-worked the cheeky true story of a group of Women’s Institute members who raised (and still are raising) money by posing for a nude calendar and created a wonderfully heart-warming musical in the process.
While the story of the original calendar girls is a little unique, the effect of cancer isn’t and the statistic of how this disease affects us makes sure that the subject matter at the heart of the musical is never far from our own experiences. But this isn’t a pity party production, Firth and Barlow’s production is littered with moments of pure joy and escapism as the “girls” contemplate getting their kit off, the music may not be the most memorable but it moves the narrative forward brilliantly and through a set of engaging central performances makes this one of the more touching musicals currently on the road.
In the central role of Annie, Anna-Jane Casey gives a beautifully understated performance and is the perfect foil for the larger than life portrayal of life-long friend Chris played with gravitas by Rebecca Storm. Denise Welch gives a strong performance as Celia, the girl who has had a little help through the years. Excellent support is given by stage stalwarts Ruth Madoc as Jessie and Sara Crowe as Ruth who provide plenty of magnetism and energy that occasionally puts the others on stage to shame. But it isn’t just the ladies who pack a punch, Phil Corbitt may only appear in the first half, but he makes and leaves his mark strongly as the cancer-stricken John, while the younger members of the cast Isabel Caswell (Jenny), Tyler Dobbs (Tommo) and Danny Howker (Danny) provide a neat subplot full of humour that helps bring an element of light-relief to proceedings.
Under the direction of Matt Ryan, the near 3-hour running time, never outstays its welcome and is pacey and precise, nothing about this show is flashy (apart from the occasional nipple) even Robert Jones’ Yorkshire hillside set, leaves plenty of open stage, where Oliver Fenwick’s lighting design is used to depict new scenes and locations, meaning this show is slick and smooth and this only benefits the storytelling which of course is central to the whole production.
It may not be the most original of musicals, and it may be a story many of us have seen on numerous occasions but the transition from drama to musical works brilliantly and in fact has probably found its more natural home, one where the busting into song befits the emotion of the piece perfectly.
Calendar Girls the Musical is a heart-warming, life-affirming, joyous piece of musical theatre that more than holds its weight against the competition.
Runs until 1 December 2018 | Image: Contributed