Theatre Royal, Windsor – until 16 September 2023
Reviewed by Kirsty Thomson
Calendar Girls is the musical version of a true story about a group of ladies from the Women’s Institute (WI) in the Yorkshire village of Knapely. The ladies set about creating a nude calendar in order to raise money for a hospital sofa in memory of Annie’s (Tanya Franks) husband who passed away from cancer.
This very powerful show, written by Gary Barlow and Tim Firth, makes you both laugh and cry, often within the same scene. It is so cleverly written and directed so that despite all of the laughter and light-hearted scenes, the show is constantly brought back to the reality of all of the emotional and serious topics involved. I found it particularly effective when Annie (Tanya Franks) sang the musical number ‘Very Slightly Almost’ creating so much emotion with the story of John (Colin R Campbell) being diagnosed and struggling with his cancer, while at the same time summoning soft laughter from the audience with the lines about shopping at Tesco and having a row while people ‘try to reach for cheese’.
Amy Robbins playing the part of Chris really stood out to me. Her energy, facial expressions, and ability to put a smile on people’s faces was outstanding, not to mention her powerful vocals. She created such a presence every time she entered the stage particularly with her bold entrance during the WI conference.
Maureen Nolan played Ruth, a woman who needed more persuasion than others to take part in the nude calendar. Some of this persuasion came from her bottle of vodka during the song ‘My Russian Friend and I’ which was another number to incorporate both laughter and sadness.
Marti Webb played Celia and her musical theatre background really stood out when singing ‘So I’ve Had a Little Work Done’ about her life, working as an air hostess. Lyn Paul as Jessie, Paula Tappenden as Marie, and Honeysuckle Weeks as Cora also did a sensational job, and each woman had their own personal struggle and story which they had the solo opportunity to express which was extremely compelling.
Graham Macduff who played Rod was particularly entertaining during the photographing of the women for the calendar, not knowing quite where to look and communicating with the women from backstage.
The highlight of the show has to be the finale where the women pose nude for the calendar photographs. The chaos, the support, the laughter and of course the famous line from Chris (Amy Robbins) ‘We’re going to need considerably bigger buns’ had the audience in fits of laughter and brought a warm sense of community and achievement to the room. The standing ovation was extremely deserved.
This show hosts a spectacular cast, excellent songs and powerful topics that guarantees laughter through the tears. A sensational show not to be missed.