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Calendar Girls the Musical

Calendar Girls the Musical

With unforgettable songs, every performance of Calendar Girls the Musical continues to add to the millions already raised for charity and prove that there is no such thing as an ordinary woman.

Following the death of a much-loved husband, a group of ordinary women in a small Yorkshire Women's Institute are prompted to do an extraordinary thing and set about creating a nude calendar to raise money for charity.

But upturning preconceptions is a dangerous business and none of the women are prepared for the emotional and personal ramifications they will face as the fabulous and funny calendar brings each woman unexpectedly into flower.

The story of the Calendar Girls launched a global phenomenon: a million copycat calendars, a record-breaking movie, stage play and now a musical written by Tim Firth and Gary Barlow which coined the term "craughing" - the act of crying and laughing at the same time!

With unforgettable songs, every performance continues to add to the millions already raised for charity and prove that there is no such thing as an ordinary woman.

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Calendar Girls the Musical ON TOUR

Our review on Calendar Girls the Musical

Calendar Girls The Muslcal - The Lowry, Salford - Tuesday 16th January 2024 by Karen Ryder

Our Rating

Sometimes in life, the most humble of people are the ones to make the world unintentionally sit up and take note.  This is exactly what the ladies of the WI did from their village in Yorkshire.  Their idea for the now famous nude calendar was born out of love for a member of their close-knit community, John Baker.  It was only ever intended as a way to make John smile and to raise some funds for the Leukaemia Research Fund along the way.  But love has a power and a momentum all of its own, and little did these ladies know that what had started as a personal venture, would end up supporting families across the globe.  Their story is remarkable, and a simple calendar grew into a global news phenomenon, a blockbusting movie, an awarding winning play and a musical.  This is the story of the best of humanity, and just like the sunflower, how looking towards the light can make you grow and bloom in ways you never imagined.

One by one we see the ladies of the WI enter the stage, set out as a village hall, awaiting its monthly meeting.  There is an immediate warmth and truth to the show, as heartfelt and real characters greet us with the trials and tribulations of their imperfect and messy lives.  A Northern gritty humour is hard wired and rooted in the backbone of these characters, and it is beautifully reflected in the show throughout.  As they each bring their craft activity in and giggle at the various attempts to reflect October through a craft, from Corn Dolly Parton to homemade wine, which they playfully ponder the suitability of in a Methodist Church Hall, we learn that John, a clearly popular and well-loved member of the community, is ill.  But the “Keep Calm And Carry On,” mantra is strong here and any niggling concerns as to just how ill he may be are sprinkled with gallows humour and a rousing attempt to keep spirits high.  As we start to learn a little more about the lives of each of these women through the passing of seasons and the various WI activities, John’s hospital visits become more frequent and his health deteriorates, though his humour does not.  His passing is dealt with in a gentle and respectful way.  It is not glossed over and we are able to feel the pain of losing someone, but it also allows that grief to be shared out through the community, including us as the audience, so that it makes just enough space for the power of friendship, loyalty and courage to shine through.  That is what Calendar Girls The Musical is about, and as the seed of an idea takes place, we are taken on one heck of a story as these inspirational women face their own fears to not only create a calendar, but a legacy that the world will never forget.

Long term friends Gary Barlow and Tim Firth had a long-standing agreement that they would one day write a musical together.  They created a corker that is full of love, life, truth and hope.  It is emotive without being schmaltzy, funny without being disrespectful, and has captured an honesty that is so relatable, you cannot help but recognise and love the wealth of characters in yourself and your own loved ones.  With songs such as Sunflower, Yorkshire, and Kilimanjaro nestled in amongst fantastic one liners and raw messages, the combination is divine and effortlessly flows.  The driving force may come from characters Chris and Annie, but each respective character is given their own platform to shine, their own song, their own life.  It is a true ensemble musical, which beautifully echoes the spirit of this Yorkshire community.  As such, Jonathan O’Boyle has directed the production with a deep understanding and generosity of the idea that it takes a village to raise a child, and never undermines the importance of what each character offers.

To say this cast is a strong unit would be an understatement.  They unify as one yet are equally able to stand alone and hold the spotlight.  A wealth of talent with endless experience between them, they beautifully blend to delight and present a true masterpiece.  Samantha Seager (Only Fools & Horses The Musical, Into The Woods, Coronation Street) alights the stage as Chris.  A fun and feisty driving force, her energy is infectious and her strength of will is tangible.  Her rousing spirit urged the audience on and during her speech to the big wigs at the WI about sticking two fingers up to cancer, it was so on point and moving that the applause from the audience was momentarily halted as we all had to catch our breath.  Chris’ bestie is the lovely Annie, brought to life with remarkable strength and spirit by Laurie Brett (Eastenders, Waterloo Road, Les Mis).  The humanity in Brett’s performance is beyond words.  It is something you feel.  She evokes such truth that she turns sympathy into empathy and produces an unfiltered rawness of life after loss, with both its highs and its lows.  It is incredibly relatable and touched many people in the audience.  Maureen Nolan (The Nolans, Blood Brothers, Footloose) as Ruth superbly shows us how trying to project perfection can leave you with private demons.  She expertly manages to present various layers of her character, to her friends, to herself, and to us as the audience, resulting in a remarkable performance and juxtaposing moments of humour and heartache.  Her solo My Russian Friend And I is not only testament to her acting range, but vocally reminds us why she is a member of one of the biggest selling girl bands of all time.  Honeysuckle Weeks (Foyles War, The Five, The Best Man) plays Cora, a vicars daughter who feels trapped between the expectations this brings, and flying solo as her true self.  She brings a vivacious energy and strength to the stage yet equally allows us to witness her inner doubts and personal struggles.  She allows her character to be very approachable and recognisable, so we actually feel like we might know her.  It is mesmerising watching her.

Lyn Paul (The New Seekers, Blood Brothers, Taboo) is fabulously matriarchal and stern as Jessie, yet we discover that Jessie’s outward appearance is a role she has played in life, and it possibly hides a deliciously wicked interior.  Paul creates a commanding character, without ever being unwelcoming and the respect others have for her is apparent in both performance and reality.  She blows us away with her solo.  It holds a powerful message and is delivered by powerful vocals that give you goosebumps and extracted involuntary “wows” from around the theatre.  Liz Carney (Our Gracie, Blithe Spirit, Mount Pleasant) does such a convincing job as the fussy, rule abiding, perfectionist leader of the WI Marie, that not only will she have you laughing along at her antics, but she will lull you into the weaknesses of prejudging someone.  For when her hurt at being excluded and prejudged spills out, and we see things through her eyes, the guilt you feel is real.  It is an extraordinary scene and utterly compelling.  Helen Pearson (Hollyoaks, Eastenders, Educating Rita) is glorious as Celia.  A woman who is at one with herself, she exudes a comfortable confidence and delivers some important and valuable messages.  She has a lightness about her that is refreshing and engaging.  It is an honest performance of an honest character and I loved her.  Our beloved John is cheekily performed by Colin R Campbell (To Kill A Mockingbird, Twelfth Night, The Diplomat) with a vivacious energy and lust for life.  It is a heck of a part to take on when you think about it, and Campbell stunningly gave us a character who is brave, brimming with love, passionate about his job, his hobby, his wife and his friends.  Andrew Tuton (professional debut) was excellent as Rod, fun, tender, supportive without ever being corny.  He could summarise his feelings with a simple look on his face and it was delightful to watch.  The whole cast were stunning, with a touching honesty woven right into the heart of everything they did.

Designed by Gary McCann and lighting by Nick Richings, this production of Calendar Girls The Musical was subtly clever with an appreciation in its seemingly simple design.  A grand design of the church hall dominated, with a three dimensional feel, with areas that went off to a believable kitchen and the glorious scenery of Yorkshire.  This scenery outside the hall changed with the seasons, as did the lighting, and somehow managed to match the tone of the scene each time.  Scene changes to the hospital were smoothly achieved by the addition of the battered couch in the relatives room and signage being lowered from above, akin to any hospital.  And the calendar scene itself?  Artistic, fun, no fuss, just gorgeous women with gorgeous props doing something gorgeous for their beloved friend.  Each lady received a round of applause after their “picture had been taken.”  The support physically rippled throughout the theatre, so that by the end, when they all came on in full song, laden with vases of luscious sunflowers, I was a wreck.  I was a melting pot of admiration, grief, awe, loss and hope.  Definitely hope.  An emotive, earnest and ebullient show, Calendar Girls The Musical is a class act.  It will reach out and embrace everyone in their own unique way and reassure you that you do not have to face the unimaginable alone.  It is witty, tender and beautiful.  And it all came about because a community wanted to remember one of their own.  So, if you take one thing away from watching Calendar Girls The Musical, let it be the name John Baker.


Watch our "In Conversation with Maureen Nolan" video discussing the show.

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