MusicalNorth WestReview

Calendar Girls the Musical – The Lowry, Salford

Book, Music and Lyrics – Gary Barlow and Tim Firth

Director: Matt Ryan

Reviewer: Kate Goerner

The musical version of the famous true story of the Yorkshire Women’s Institute members who stripped off returns to The Lowry, where it enjoyed a pre-West End run two years ago.

Back then it was called simply The Girls– but following its West End outing, the show has been renamed Calendar Girls the Musicalfor a major tour, probably to make the most of the familiarity, awareness and affection the now internationally famous tale has. And nor would we want to. What started as a local campaign to raise money to buy a new sofa for the relative’s room at Skipton Hospital has resulted in over £10 million pounds donated to leukaemia research, a hugely-successful stage play and a Hollywood movie starring Helen Mirren.

From the welcoming sunflowers on arrival to The Lowry, to the now iconic black dresses and pearls – there’s no escaping the memorable symbols made famous by inspiring ladies of the Rylstone W.I. The writer of the play and film Tim Firth teamed up with pop’s Gary Barlow to write this musical version, which comes complete with a star-studded cast who bring to life the different personalities and backstories of the W.I. ladies. Indeed, there are that many characters it takes a while to get to grips with everyone and their place in the story – leading to a bit of a slow start following the uplifting opening numberYorkshire.

Musical theatre stalwart Anna-Jane Casey puts in a beautifully-measured performance as Annie, whose steady love for her flower-loving husband John (Phil Corbitt) blooms into the seeds of an idea following his death from leukaemia. Her solo numbers including Scarboroughand Very Slightly Almost capturing the fears and sadness of the story.

Spurred on by her redoubtable best friend Chris (a whirlwind of a performance by Rebecca Strong), Annie and her faithful friends defy the orders of their traditional W.I. chairwoman Marie (an enjoyable turn by TV presenter Fern Britton) to strip off for a calendar.

Former Coronation Street star and ‘Loose Woman’ Denise Welch has a lot of fun as air hostess-turned golf club wife Celia – getting a real audience-pleaser of a song about not giving a ‘nip and tuck’ about having ‘work’ done, while Karen Dunbar as spiky single mum Cora shows real pathos behind her quick retorts. Ruth Madoc nails the comic timing with her droll retired headteacher Jessie – it seemed the audience was virtually leaning forward with anticipation whenever she stepped forward.

Sara Crowe’s timid Ruth perhaps had the best lines of the night – and she nailed every one of them. Her My Russian Friend and Isong surely striking a chord with anyone who’s ever needed a bit of Dutch courage.

The climactic scene can only be described as a flash-bulb powered joy, as the ladies finally disrobe with just a few props to protect their modesty – a true celebration of womanhood, whatever your age or size. As empowering for the audience as you hope it is for the actors. Bravo.

Simple but effective design by Robert Jones captures the essence of Yorkshire – from blue skies and green grass to the sunflowers that fill the stage at the end. While Firth and Barlow’s witty songs capture the spirit of the women and their lives – they are not particularly memorable and sometimes felt a bit lacking in volume in the vast Lyric auditorium.

Don’t go expecting massive chorus lines and company numbers that raise the roof – this isn’t that sort of musical. But if you go hoping to see a thoughtful, funny, uplifting and moving tale of what can be achieved if you’re brave enough to bare your soul and ditch your inhibitions – this courageous celebration of “Girl Power” is definitely worth a watch.

Runs until 10 November 2018 | Image: Contributed

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The North West team is under the editorship of John McRoberts. 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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