Wednesday, 16 October 2019

THEATRE REVIEW: Calendar Girls - The Winter Gardens, Blackpool.

Dragging my husband out on a school night is no mean feat, however with the prospect of directing Calendar Girls for his local theatre company he reluctantly agreed. Upon arriving at the theatre to discover that this was in fact the musical version, he sighed and diffidently followed me through to our seats. From this moment I was willing the show to sweep him off his feet…

Calendar Girls: The Musical is the brainchild of composer and lyricist Gary Barlow and writer Tim Firth. Barlow and Firth collaborated so intensely together, that this really brings together the story and the music seamlessly. The show is based on the 2003 film, based on a true story. It’s adaptable nature for both stage and screen makes it the story that keeps on giving, and this current production is no exception. It had the audience weeping one moment, and howling with laughter the next.

Calendar Girls is the story of ‘Chris’ (Rebecca Storm) and her quest to provide a settee for the hospital where the husband of her good friend ‘Annie’ (Sarah Jane Buckley) died of cancer. This calendar becomes the mouthpiece for women to overcome their feelings of self-consciousness, grief and anger.

In this production, I felt as though the audience were really treated, to see the beautiful relationship between Annie and her husband John, or Clarkey, as she so lovingly refers to him at various points throughout the story. We also get to know and familiarise ourselves with the families of the other girls, see their children, and husbands, and how they all interact with one another. This for me added a realistic depth to the plot. The loss becomes more real, more poignant. Seeing the girls interact with their loved ones cements their own plot, and background story. We are able to connect with all the girls, and this further adds to the wholesome ‘family’ feel of the show, demonstrating the love between wives and husbands, mothers and sons, and best friends.

This is an unapologetically British story. This show captures the best of British values, community above all. As we all know, Yorkshire lasses are made of strong stuff; grit and determination and the cast of Calendar Girls demonstrate that in bucket loads, as they tackle themes of love and loss, dealing with the relatable issues of cancer, children, grief, and marriage. Since the British public are so familiar with the film, it was necessary that strong actors carry this performance. I thoroughly enjoyed every performance. Each musical number was performed to it’s full potential, be it a solo performance or ensemble number. The sense of pride and belonging was clear from each member of the cast – their feelings came across as sincerely authentic. There is a real sense of friendship between all the girls, played by many a famous face, but Annie (Sarah Jane Buckley) and Chris (Rebecca Storm) portray the kind of friendship that stands the test of time. They are perfectly in tune with one another. Notable performances for me came from Jessie (Ruth Madoc) and Cora (Sue Devaney). I hung onto every word Jessie had to say, as a teacher myself, I could certainly relate to her experiences, and she delivered her lines with the right amount of passion and nostalgia for a profession that only serves to highlight the passing of time. Light relief was often provided by Cora (Sue Devaney). Her quick one-liners really had the audience belly laughing; particularly during the incredibly witty number ‘Who Wants A Silent Night?’ Devaney absolutely knows how to work the audience and at times I found myself tittering away watching her facial expressions change in response to lines delivered elsewhere, and the way in which she maintained a strong and focused character throughout.

The highlight of the musical is of course the calendar shoot itself. What a work of perfectly placed props, and clever lighting! It is fair to say that some girls dared to bare, and for that they should be highly commended. It is such a positive message to send to girls and women out there, that we are all body beautiful!

The musical numbers are catchy, and there are some beautiful pieces of music, particularly ‘Time Passing’ and ‘Protect Me Less.’ The lyrics are often very cleverly written, however, I didn’t feel that the numbers, overall, had much depth to them, they just didn’t seem to go anywhere. I wanted to feel moved. Without the talent of the actors, the musical numbers in my opinion fell short. I must mention, that I felt very uncomfortable with the number ‘My Russian Friend And I’ which seemed to trivialise alcoholism in what was a really serious scene. The number was acted marvelously by Julia Hills, but it seemed too jovial to tackle the subject of domestic and alcohol abuse.

So, I wanted desperately for this production to sweep my husband off his feet with a new take on a British classic. It just didn’t quite hit the mark for him. For me, this is still a fantastic girls night out, where you can cry and laugh and truly appreciate what it is to feel the love and support of your nearest and dearest. Well done to all, a brilliant production – long may it continue!

Reviewer - Jen O'Beirne
on - 15/10/19

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