Based on the inspirational true story, the film and the award winning play by Tim Firth, Calendar Girls: The musical is joyous, heartwarming and unashamedly British. When the curtain rises we are introduced to the hustle and bustle of the small Yorkshire village, as teenagers run to get the school bus, which is stuck behind a flower lorry from Amsterdam. Arriving through the gate and making their way across stage, the intertwining lives of the rural community thrives as characters laugh and greet their neighbours.
There can’t be many people who aren’t familiar with this upbeat, true story about a group of Yorkshire WI members who posed for a nude calendar in aid of a memorial for a friend who had died of cancer and just like the film, the musical features a sizeable cast of well-known faces including Ruth Madoc as Jessie, Sara Crowe as Ruth, Denise Welch as Celia and the brilliant Fern Britton, who returns to the stage for the first time in 30 years as Marie. (I personally still miss seeing her on my TV each morning.)
The story follows Annie (Anne-Marie Casey), a member of the local Women’s Institute and loving wife to John (Phil Corbitt). When John is diagnosed with leukaemia and sadly passes away, Annie’s friends at the WI, led by the redoubtable Chris (Rebecca Storm), rally around her and hatch an audacious plan to raise money for a memorial by means of a nude photo-shoot calendar, much to the disapproval of branch organiser Marie.
With such a strong cast each scene moves seamlessly into the next, always leaving the audience with a smile or tear in their eye. Having been written by Gary Barlow and Tim Firth, several of the songs have been chopped and changed with success, and the new end to Act One leaves the audience in stitches as Rebecca Storm playing Chris whips off her bra to show the others it’s not that hard.
The plot is well-paced, with the events and drama all coming from recognisable and relatable issues the characters face: cancer, grief, marriage, rebellious children and more. The nude calendar shoot is undoubtedly one of the best scenes, with a sense that even the cast are having fun and with a glimpse at a bottom or two, it perfectly captures Britain’s tongue-in-cheek sense of humour.
The cast are phenomenal, with impeccable comedic timing and characters who are both believable and endearing. It’s heartwarming, hysterically funny and is beautifully sung – make sure to book your tickets now!