Gary Barlow and Tim Firth’s latest musical incarnation of the well known story of the WI Calendar Girls, aka Calendar Girls – the musical is currently playing at Leicester’s beautiful De Montfort Hall until Saturday 20 October. It works well on three levels: the terrific cast, the down to earth humour, the pathos and the songs. The songs may not be particularly memorable but they do a great, and often emotional, job of driving the story forward and keeping us interested in the characters, their lives, their camaraderie, their bravery, their losses to Leukaemia and their successes in going forward in unexpected circumstances. This Leicester audience love it and lap up every second of Yorkshire wit and are at one with the more tender and tragic moments. After all Cancer in all its manifestations affects a huge proportion of humanity and this show is especially touching in its approaches on the subject and also its use of older actors.
The minimalist Yorkshire Dales set is sufficient in suggesting the beauty of the region and allowing various locations to be swiftly put into place. This includes open fields, the WI meeting room, Christmas in the community, a hospital waiting room, a Spring fête and the lanes of Yorkshire.
The song ‘Scarborough’ sung by Anna Jane Casey as Annie is one of the most haunting of the evening as is her brilliant rendition of ‘Kilamanjaro’. The varied selection of songs that make up the musical aren’t all doom and gloom though. Denise Welch brings the house down with her amusing ‘I’ve Had A Little Work Done’ and the older members of this audience love and appreciate Ruth Madoc’s ‘What Age Expects’. There is a lot here about renewed sense of empowerment particularly from the females who have to consider how the suddenly proposed calendar and their involvement is going to be received and particularly how their husbands and the local community are going to react. There is opposition to the brave idea and they have no present and future idea of the impact it is going to make financially as a charity fund raiser and to their lives.
In this tour we have a star studded cast including Fern Britton (Marie), Anna Jane Casey (Annie), Sara Crowe (Ruth), Karen Dunbar (Cora), Ruth Madoc (Jessie), Rebecca Storm (Chris), Denise Welch (Celia) and Phil Corbitt as John. The younger cast, who give us another perspective on the tight knit Yorkshire community include Isabel Caswell as Jenny, Tyler Dobbs as Tommo and Danny Howker as Danny. Dobbs and Howker are especially good in the scenes of social/sexual embarrassment. The ensemble as a whole are excellent. The show is directed by Matt Ryan and the set and costume designer is Robert Jones. This large De Monfort Hall audience are having a great time watching the pages turn in this terrific show and sharing love, laughter and tears with those on stage. This theatrical piece is all about communication and reaching out with care.
It is worth considering that the real life nude calendar poses were pretty demure as is the scene where the ladies attempt to hide most of their modesty and it is all very tastefully done on stage.
Reviewer: Phil Lowe
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Phil Lowe is a member of UK Theatre.