REVIEW Calendar Girls
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REVIEW Calendar Girls, the Musical – Mayflower
Review: Beccy Conway Images: Matt Crockett
The tale of the Calendar Girls of the Women’s Institute has been in the public eye since 1999, when eleven ladies from the Rylstone & District WI in Yorkshire set about producing an ‘alternative calendar’ in aid of the Leukaemia Research Fund, and the memory of 53-year old John Baker, beloved husband of one of their own.
Twenty years later, their story has been told in film and on stage in the form of a play, and this week the hit-musical production begins its run at the Mayflower, Southampton.
Calendar Girls is written by the triumphant duo of acclaimed song-writer Gary Barlow, and award-winning musical producer and playwright Tim Firth, who has been involved in the adaption of Calendar Girls since the 2003 film.
The charm of the story and Barlow and Firth’s musical adaption is the sheer ‘everywoman-ness’ of the characters.We’re treated to an all-star cast of faces from stage and screen, including Ruth Madoc, Fern Britton and Denise Welch.
They pull off the remarkable achievement of drawing us into their tight-knit group whilst also helping us understand and empathise with the insecurities of each woman as mothers, daughters, wives and friends.
We feel we could be watching a show about a community from anywhere in the UK; each character displays small moments which are instantly recognisable and relatable – Chris lamenting her baking skills, before entering the Spring fayre’s cake contest with a Victoria Sponge bought from Marks & Spencer, and winning! – that you can’t help but laugh.
The humour is rich with honesty and often sadness or fear, which only serves to pull us deeper into these women’s lives, as well as the experiences of the community as a whole.
There’s no doubting a show’s brilliance when your only criticism is that you keep missing lines because you’re laughing so loudly at the last…
The music and lyrics blend perfectly with the tone of the show. As the programme points out, this isn’t ‘the story of the play with a few songs in it’ but a fresh, warm production with songs which will have you toe-tapping one moment and holding back tears the next.
Direction from Matt Ryan and Orchestration by Steve Parry bring this musical adaptation of the film to life, with every performance dedicated to the original Calendar Girls of Cracoe, Yorkshire.
Playing at the Mayflower until January 19th, with royalties from the show adding to the almost £5 million already raised for Leukaemia Research (Bloodwise), do yourself a favour and book seats now for one of the most feel-good shows to tour the UK in a long time.