Writers: Gary Barlow and Tim Firth
Directo: Matt Ryan
Reviewer: Emma Dutton
This autumn, Chester’s Storyhouse brings the award-winning Calendar Girls The Musical to stage for a five day run. The musical, put together by Tim Firth and Take That’s Gary Barlow, tells the true story of a group of ordinary Yorkshire ladies who join forces to produce the infamous controversial calendar.
At first glance, this show may appear a little cliché; two hours of gentle humour with a target audience of middle-aged women who can relate to the trials and tribulations of the W.I members, juggling marriage problems, kids, work and social status. However, this is certainly not the case. This is a show which has a powerful takeaway message for a wide audience: the empowerment of women; the importance of friendship and the ability of even the most ordinary of people to achieve something quite extraordinary. The feel of this production is warm, heartfelt and inspiring.
This is almost solely the result of the expertise of the core cast – with some familiar faces in there for fans of TV favourites such as Loose Women and EastEnders. Special mention must be given to Sue Devaney (Cora) and Rebecca Storm (Chris) who bring superb comic timing and winning punchlines; they have the audience in the palm of their hands throughout and it is clear that the crowd have been won over from the opening scene. The younger cast members also provide excellent performances; particularly Danny Howker, whose portrayal of try-hard, lovesick teenager Danny is both impressive and endearing. In fact, the cast provide a genuine, natural portrayal of this Yorkshire community without exception; managing to avoid the trap of presenting as polished ‘musical’ performers which can often compromise the authenticity. The staging is kept minimal; a good decision which provides a very actor-focussed performance.
As a regional production; the accents of the actors are important, and the cast deliver well here. On the whole, the accents are realistic and consistent; perhaps with one or two exceptions. Vocal talent is of high quality; particularly that of lead female Sarah Jane Buckley (Annie) who provides some beautiful, goosebump-level effects in her solo offerings. The songs themselves are mixed; with one of two toe-tapping numbers which you’ll find yourself humming on the way home, but a few too many bland numbers; not quite catchy enough to be musical hits and lasting a few minutes too long for an audience waiting for the story to progress.
As the musical reaches its climax, with the famous photoshoot scenes; this show certainly delivers. With squeals of delight and surprise from the audience, this production certainly doesn’t hold back but manages to create a nice balance between the overly censored and outrageous. Spontaneous outbursts of cheers and applause show the audience’s support for these scenes – celebrating the female; women of all ages, shapes, sizes and walks of life – proud of who they are and unafraid to show exactly that.
This performance is definitely worth a watch. Whether male, female, teen or pensioner; there is a beautiful message to take away from this show and many a laugh to be had.
Running until 2 November 2019 | Image: Contributed