BWW Review: CALENDAR GIRLS - THE MUSICAL, New Wimbledon Theatre
After the 2003 film and the 2009 play, there can be few people who are not aware of the story of the Yorkshire Women's Institute members who posed nude for a charity calendar. Calendar Girls-The Musical is the latest incarnation of the story written by Take That's Gary Barlow and Tim Firth. After a very successful run at The Phoenix Theatre in 2017, this uplifting show is currently on tour and now comes to the New Wimbledon Theatre.
The story follows forthright Yorkshirewoman Chris, who wants to raise enough money to buy a sofa for the hospital where her friend Annie's husband tragically died. She is inspired to produce a nude calendar, featuring her WI colleagues.
The show follows the struggles with self-doubt and low self-esteem of the women involved as they go on to produce the calendar and much more besides. It's worth mentioning that the since 1998, when they posed for the original calendar, the original and remarkable women have raised nearly £5 million for cancer charity Bloodwise.
This is a joyful and spirited production with a moving backdrop of loss. It is a true celebration of female friendship and empowerment. It is also very refreshing to see so many women of a certain age being given the opportunity to play roles with depth, comedy and substance.
The actors look like they have having a ball. Sarah Jane Buckley gives a moving performance as grief-striken Annie. Her rendition of 'Kilimanjaro', exploring the struggles with everyday life after her loss is poignant and tender. Rebecca Storm is completely convincing as her ebullient friend Chris. The friendship between the pair is the core of the show and feels very authentic.
The remaining cast is strong, with an exceptional performance from Sue Devaney as single mother Cora. She rips through every scene she is in with an incredible energy and has a rich raspy quality to her voice.
There is a nice sub-plot of Chris' son Danny (played with excellent awkwardness by Danny Howker) struggling to come to terms with his mother's behaviour. He is well-supported by Tyler Dobbs as his hormonal friend Tommo and Isabel Caswell as the rebellious Jenny.
The structure of the show is different to the film and play. The nude photoshoot comes almost at the end of the show, after a thorough exploration of the characters' individual and collective doubts and inhibitions about their age, bodies and shyness. This is a much better structure, which places the very cleverly-staged nudity as the climax of the show.
The weakness of the show is with the songs themselves. The music is good, with often very funny lyrics. A clever medley of Christmas songs, led by Devaney, is a highlight, as is the wry 'What Age Expects', performed with aplomb by Madoc. The issue is that there is not really a single tune that remains in your head or a lyric that you find yourself singing on the way home. The effect is entertaining, but ultimately forgettable songs.
Nevertheless, what remains with you is the cast itself, who make this an excellent production. There is a unity and generosity of spirit that shines through and is infectious. This is a truly uplifting production, that never forgets the poignancy of the core message of loss and grief.
Photo Credit: Calendar Girls Tour