Calendar Girls The Musical, written by Gary Barlow and Tim Firth and starring a host of household names including Denise Welch and Fern Britton, is a joyous, empowering and grounded look at relationships, grief and love.
The story is undeniably and unashamedly British, from the backdrop of Yorkshire to the values of the Women’s Institute, the show perfectly captures the nation’s tongue-in-cheek sense of humour and community.
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. This realism is part of the show’s strength and makes it all the more riveting – a nod to the true story the musical is based on.
With such a character-driven plot, great acting is needed to carry it forward. The chosen cast are phenomenal, with impeccable comedic timing and characters who are both believable and endearing.
The laughs are constant and the cast – particularly Rebecca Storm as Chris and Karen Dunbar as Cora – keep the tone constantly fresh; with just a single glance at the audience or pause before delivering a joke, their comedic prowess enlivens both the script and the theatre’s atmosphere.
Isabel Caswell as Jenny and Danny Howker as Danny are brilliant in their portrayal of youthful flirtation and banter. Their presence adds another interesting element to the storyline, as they perfectly capture the embarrassment and awkwardness that comes with being a teenager.
The best moment in the show is the photo shoot for the calendar, with well-placed props, unabashed nudity and the incredible facial expressions of the cast leaving the audience screaming with laughter. This scene is not only utterly hilarious but also empowering, with the characters embracing their bodies and rejecting fears of social backlash and self-consciousness. This works perfectly in the setting of the theatre and leaves a lasting impression.
Unfortunately, a pressing issue with the show is the songs themselves. The lyrics are touching, funny and moving at times – particularly in Scarborough and Kilimanjaro, which are beautifully performed by Anna-Jane Casey – however none have the punch or catchiness to make them truly effective. While a lot of the songs would be better as simply spoken dialogue, the cast do well to bring the music to life. There are also some technical sound issues that leave lines lost under the backing music, and a few occasions where harmony between the crowding voices is lacking. With that said, the songs still manage to upkeep the fun and uplifting atmosphere. What Calendar Girls The Musical lacks in memorable songs is made up for in humour and personality.
So, while it may not have you singing the soundtrack on your way home, Calendar Girls The Musical will leave you with warmth, a full heart and some very quotable one-liners.