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Calendar Girls Review

Friendship, love, loss and laughter - honestly the best musical I've seen in years!

Opening night closed to a well deserved standing ovation.  I left the theatre feeling like I’d been on an emotional rollercoaster yet the writer in me wanted more. Where are they now? Could life go back to normal in their sleepy village after such global media attention?

Hey Tim – can we have a sequel please?

For those who haven’t seen the film (tut tut), Calendar Girls is based on the true story of a group of women in a small Yorkshire village who produced a rather controversial WI calendar to raise money for a hospital waiting room sofa. Using a range of WI staples – cakes, flowers and jam to cover their naughty bits, the calendar hit the headlines worldwide and the ladies have gone on to raise over £5 million for charity!

A phenomenal success story – calendar, play, film and now musical thanks to the dream team -Tim Firth and Gary Barlow.  It is by far the best musical I’ve seen in years and I would happily see it again in a heartbeat. Believe me – this isn’t something I say lightly. If I’m not engaged, intrigued or inspired – I have no qualms in leaving at the interval. Life is too short for bad theatre.

Love, friendship and determination were bought to life by an amazing cast of leading ladies – Fern Britton, Anna-Jane Casey, Sara Crowe, Karen Dunbar, Rebecaa Storm and Denise Welch. It’s hard to single out anyone as they were all equally brilliant, funny and inspiring but a special mention to Pauline Daniels for stepping into Ruth Madoc’s shoes and delivering a fabulous performance as Jessie. I loved the positive championing of growing old, reinforced brilliantly when she belted out ‘What Age Expects.’

Husbands you were great too! Funny, warming and truth be told – it made me happy to see positive male role models supporting and loving their partners through this extraordinary journey.

The three teenagers played by Isabel Caswell, Tyler Hobbs and Danny Howker held their own next to the seasoned professionals. The audience were in fits of laughter as they bumbled there way through teenage awkwardness and sexual naivety.

The staging was simple –  a beautiful Yorkshire country backdrop, a few chairs, a piano, a wheel barrow and of course a cake stand. By design or default it certainly focuses your attention on the performance and truthfully every scene had me captivated. The poignant passage of time was woven beautifully through script and song, taking the audience from tears to laughter within seconds of each other.

If you like a bit of Gary/Take That – you can hear the Barlow magic in the powerful lyrics and arrangements.

The audience was in raptures when it came to the shooting of the calendar scene. Well done ladies – for reminding us that beauty comes in all shapes and sizes. They looked like they were having a fabulous time, each feeding off each other’s bravado as it came to their turn to strip off!

It’s on until 16 February and an absolute Muddy must – you won’t be disappointed!

Book tickets: £10 – £48.50

For more stage gossip, leading ladies – Fern Britton, Ruth Madoc and Denise Welch chatted about taking on these legendary roles.

Thrilled to be one of the girls, (but keeping her kit firmly ON – “I’m playing Marie, so no nipps or noo for me!”) presenter and best-selling novelist Fern Britton cheerfully admits that she almost missed out, initially telling her agent that on instinct it wasn’t for her.

“And then came the call saying that Gary Barlow would like to have a cup of coffee and a chat with me,” she exclaims, eyes bright and smile wide. “Suddenly I found myself in a room reading the script with Gary, Tim Firth [writer], the producers and the casting director. And boy am I glad that they persisted!” she laughs, admitting that her instinct must have been on the blink.

“Never was I happier to be wrong about something. Some people don’t like musicals because of all the bursting into song, but with this you hardly know that a song has started until it’s halfway through. You are totally pulled along by your earholes and the songs really advance the story. Tim Firth is a god. He wrote the play, the movie and the musical and he’s like a Yorkshire Stephen Sondheim with the lyrics. As for Gary, he has written some incredible songs,” she enthuses.

Having previously starred in the stage play version, Ruth Madoc is the old hand of the assembled cast, but she wasn’t convinced about returning to the subject.

“And then I realised that my agent had been working on it for the past six months so I thought I’d jolly well better go and do the audition” she hoots, adding: “I expected them to want me to play Marie again, but they said they wanted me to play the older woman this time, which is wonderful; Jessie has got some fantastic lines.”

Loose Women’s Denise Welch ponders on why the story has endured in various incarnations:

“It is about friendship and community and I think we all relate to that. Celia, my character, has been off as an air hostess and has always been looking for something more. When she comes back she realises that it was already there. As we get older we all realise that,” she says thoughtfully.

“I love men, but women make things happen,” claims Denise, who confesses that while she is absolutely a woman’s woman, the first question she asked was who else was in the show. “Because I’m too old and long in the tooth to be dealing with egos and temper tantrums,” she explains. “Thankfully we all get on, but second to the script, that was the most important thing to me.”

“This is an incredibly human story,” Fern elucidates. “Life is all about loss, love, making a mess, making mistakes, clearing it up and atoning. It is a terribly hackneyed phrase, but our show is life affirming.”

“And it is a different proposition when you have music to the extent that we have,” says the fabulously glamorous Ms. Madoc, who, as an experienced musical theatre actress, knows a thing or two about the genre. “The music expands the subject far bigger than the play ever did. It’s fabulous and the audience are in for a real treat. The music makes it a wonderful emotional journey but it is seamless; it slides into the dialogue. It never feels like ‘here comes a song’, and that makes it a very powerful piece of theatre.

Are they worried about disrobing on stage – does the ‘Great British Take Off’ hold any fear?

“We’ll have great big pineapples or whatever in front of us, so the audience won’t see much,” Ruth waves any concerns aside. “Besides,” she says, a naughty glint in her eye, “at 75 you don’t care!”

But the show has even more to offer. Having already raised huge amounts of money through merchandise and bucket collections at each performance, the charity Bloodwise will continue to benefit from the production – a fact of which the ladies are extremely proud.

Calendar Girls The Musical is at The Theatre Royal Norwich from 5 – 16 February.

Book tickets: £10 – £48.50

 

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