WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
Is there anyone who doesn’t know the story of the ladies of Rylstone WI in Yorkshire who posed naked with their knitting needles, flower arrangements and harvest produce to create a charity calendar following the death of one of their partners? It’s one of the nation’s cherished real-life stories – and 20 years on loved as much as ever. You’ll laugh and laugh – but take a hanky too.
At the Theatre Royal in Newcastle this is Denise Welch’s show – she plays sassy Celia, the scourge of the golf club with her worldly ways and enhanced boobs. Fair to say the audience is delighted to see her on home turf – and clearly she’s chuffed to bits to be here. But this is a huge girl power hit with a stellar cast playing the feisty and faintly WI-averse members. Fern Britton does a nicely bossy Marie, working her chairman’s role superbly well. You’ll recognise Sara Crowe as Ruth played with hilarious comic timing. Ruth Madoc brings her big voice to the stage as retired teacher Jessie and as Cora, Karen Dunbar is a bolshie, big-voiced non-traditional vicar’s daughter. Big voices and pivotal characters come in the shape of Rebecca Storm as Chris – who masterminds the calendar – and her best friend Annie, played by Anna-Jane Casey. Spoiler alert – Annie’s performance will break your heart. She has an amazing voice which is beautiful in story-telling songs like the wistful Scarborough and the painfully real, Very Slightly Almost. The blokes play great roles alongside – and the youngsters who play the three teens navigating the first pathways to love and lust are brilliantly watchable.
All human life, the best of female friendship, the best of community, the hilarity and heartbreak of ageing, and the comfort of couples growing old together. The audience might not have had their naked calendar moments but they’ve mostly been through the death of someone close, the mundanity of daily life, the angst of parenting and feelings of being on the edge of a friendship group, or being judged. On stage, just like in life, these are dealt with by laughing, gathering chums together and facing the fear. There are many fabulous moments in Calendar Girls – everyone on stage is hugely watchable – and all the main ‘girls’ get their punchy character song – Denise Welch smashes it with I Had A Little Work Done and Sara’s Crowe’s My Russian Friend and I is memorable and funny. Ensemble songs such as Dare and Yorkshire are rousing – we are in the hands of Gary Barlow and Tim Firth so the music and lyrics are perfectly on point with bucketloads of emotion and energy. These scene where the calendar is shot brings Denise centre stage (albeit with some strategically-placed buns) – and she plays it for laughs with perfect timing. The shoot is nicely done with confidence, style and real laughs.
WHO SHOULD SEE IT?
Don’t expect a version of the film of the same name. The music and lyrics delve deeper and really will make you stop in your tracks. There’s great joy, energy and a real celebration of life in these few hours. And worth mentioning – the original ‘calendar’ in aid of leukaemia charity Bloodwise, has since raised more than £5 million. You might even meet cast members shaking their buckets after the show so take some change.
WHEN IS IT ON?
Until Saturday 29 September.