The Lowry, Salford – until Saturday 10th November 2018
Reviewed by Julie Noller
Calendar Girls, there can’t be many people who don’t know the heartbreaking tale of how a fight against cancer led the sunflowers of Knapely Women’s Institute to seek an alternative way to fund raise enough for a settee in memory of a much loved husband to be placed in the family room of Skipton Hospital. Quite possibly it would be thanks to the 2003 mega blockbusting film. But now the story is back having had a good old spit and polish by Tim Firth and Gary Barlow (who is indeed another great British institution). The music is catchy with a hint I suspect of a few Take Thatisms, the words are witty, moving and delivered with joy and sadness. For this story has been cut open like a scone and placed out for judging with a great big dollop of plum jam and cream on top. I would say it is fair to say that there was more than a few members of various Women’s Institutes in the audience tonight and they loved it. I felt like a member of the Women’s Institute tonight, such is the small village feeling and warmth of the actors onstage, they feel like old friends we are instantly drawn to. Of course there were chuckles around me as little quips and jokes were recognised, I suspect there may have been an odd couple of blown bulbs in projectors before a presentation on the history of broccoli. Calendar Girls isn’t about that Pirelli influenced calendar it’s about how that calendar affected all their lives. It’s about life.
It’s packed with names of stage and silver screen who we all know and love, those clever castings help the audience bond. The other great observation is that the cast simply look like they’re having a blast on stage that left me wanting to leave my seat and join the party on stage. Of course this is a professional cast but you wonder if each night they play to individual audiences and last nights audience had a hint of naughtiness that was reflected on stage to everyone’s delight. How could anyone tire of such a wonderful musical? I cried how could you not feel raw emotion when Annie (Anna-Jane Casey) is singing her heart out firstly with optimism and then living through the grief. Annie and her John (Phil Corbitt) who is the strong silent Yorkshire man, he reassures Annie it will be okay, jokes with her and friends but then he leaves the dale via the village gate and you hear yourself inhale. I clapped along to who wants a Silent Night? Remembering my own school days and many miss sung Christmas Carols. Cora (Karen Dunbar) the single mother daughter of a vicar, that is an incredible amount of baggage to carry around and speaking of baggage, or rather enhanced baggage we have Celia (Denise Welch) the ex air hostess, trying to reign herself in for the Golf Club, but finally admitting to have had a little work done. There has to be a best friend and it’s Chris (Rebecca Storm) often acting before thinking (who hasn’t?), a heart of gold , bright and bubbly we see her reflected in the youth that’s intertwined into the story, but have their own subplot.
Danny (Danny Howker) his Mum is proud of him, pushing him into Head Boy, for Chris was far from a model pupil. Tommo (Tyler Dobbs) pushing a few boundaries, trying to be cool but ultimately is a mummy’s boy and raises a big awww from the audience when he announces Cora is the best Dad he could have. Then there’s emotionally scared and mixed up Jenny. Not engaging with her Mother; Marie (Fern Britton) who disproves of anything the ladies of Knapley may suggest especially a nude calendar, both are fighting their own demons and ultimately it is Jenny who sees the light and how, simply talking and mixing can help find purpose. Early on you see how life imitates life, it doesn’t change, the ladies inside the institute laughing at how they joined to impress their future Mothers in Law, cut to the youngsters outside looking through the windows and seeing their future Mothers in Law. My heroine of the night has to be Jessie (Ruth Madoc) ex school teacher, she hates the fact age is what defines us, through What Age Expects shes such an inspiration, act as you feel, don’t let it hold you back. There’s plenty of very typically British one liners that will delight and leave you howling. Ruth (Sara Crowe) simply could be any of us, meekly seeking acceptance, wanting to be the best, be it wife or baker even cup of tea maker. She seeks solace with her Russian friend, overcomes her fears, faces them head on and emerges through the other side. Typically wearing her very fluffy granny slippers. Showing the world her inner strength. You will leave the theatre wondering which Yorkshire lioness you might be, but ultimately you will realise you may just be a little bit of each. Life as a story could never grow old and as long as Calendar Girls continues to draw the audiences and fill the auditoriums; having a lot of fun along the way, then it will continue to receive rave reviews and be enjoyed time and time again, bravo.