Calendar Girls – The Musical

Oct 4 2018 | By More

★★★★★       Heartfelt

Festival Theatre: Tue 2 – Sat 13 Oct 2018
Review by Thom Dibdin

Big, powerful emotions are harnessed to most glorious effect by Gary Barlow and Tim Firth in this musical version of the Calendar Girls story, which is touring to the Festival Theatre for a fortnight.

The film and play on which this is based both made successful use of that same basic material – a great story of real people facing an adversity with true heart. But the musical adaptation rifles straight to the core of the matter and delivers something altogether stronger and, probably, more lingering.

The main cast: Rebecca Storm, Fern Britton, Anna-Jane Casey, Sara Crowe, Ruth Madoc, Karen Dunbar and Denise Welch. Pic Calendar Girls

The main cast: Rebecca Storm, Fern Britton, Anna-Jane Casey, Sara Crowe, Ruth Madoc, Karen Dunbar and Denise Welch. Pic Calendar Girls

The true story on which this is based is well known. A group of women in a rural Yorkshire WI wanted to commemorate the husband of one of their members who had died of cancer, so they made a tastefully nude calendar to fund a settee in the hospital visitor’s room.

The pictures of the ladies of a certain age, naked but for a pair of strategically placed iced buns – with very naughty glacé cherries if memory serves – made the pages of all the papers and the story became the 1998 equivalent of a viral hit.

Writer Firth has no qualms about taking a known story and allowing it to play out. And while there are several embellishments of the characters and the sequence of events for dramatic purposes – these do not meddle with the basic facts or belittle anyone who was there.

This was all just as true in the previous versions. It is the addition of Barlow’s canny songs which makes the difference. They both carry the emotion from one scene to the next and help create a sense of the camaraderie between the WI members.


The real friendships at the core of the show are those around Annie (Anna-Jane Casey) and Chris (Rebecca Storm). They’ve been pals ever since school – 40 years ago – they even met their husbands on a double date.

If Annie is the sensible one, married to Phil Corbitt’s ever-charming Dales park warden John, Chris has a has wild reputation, even though she now runs a florists with husband Rod (Ian Mercer) while their son Danny (Danny Howker) is about to become head boy.

Firth and Barlow pack whole episodes worth of background and narrative into a song, partly thanks to superbly fluid direction from Matt Ryan who lets scenes fold into one another quite naturally on Robert Jones’ open set.

It is a style which allows all seven of the main WI members to establish strong personalities, which are later brought into play as they react (negatively) to Chris’s idea of a nude calender.

There’s Fern Britten’s snooty incomer Marie, who has taken over as chair of the WI, single mum Cora, played with brilliant effect by Karen Dunbar, goody-two-shoes Ruth who Sara Crowe reveals has hidden depths of her own sorrow, ex-teacher Jessie played with a domineering charm by Ruth Madoc and one-time air hostess Celia, who Denise Welch has fighting against the other wives in the golf club.

But it is most brilliantly used as John is diagnosed with leukaemia and, after an initial recovery, quickly relapses and dies. Anna-Jane Casey is outstanding in her portrayal of a woman coming to terms with what is happening and her realisation of how it will be the small things which will hurt most.

And while John’s death is told through Annie’s reaction to it, around her, life continues. Ensuring that huge laughs and great sorrow are are never far from each other and making it good idea for audience members to ensure they have clean hanky about their person.

Not every performer is as good a singer as the best of them – and while there aren’t any actual wrong notes, some are less well struck than others. Yet there is such a feeling that this a bunch of mates having a great time on stage, that such things are almost irrelevant.

Model of the Calendar Girls set. Pic: Calendar Girls

Robert Jones’ set, a smallish wooden floor that merges into grass and then looks over a dry-stone wall to the fells and hills beyond, with a trickling beck along the front in a narrow apron, is perfect for the free-flowing nature of the show. Oliver Fenwick’s lighting dapples the far hills to almost poetic effect.

Then, of course, there is the photo shoot itself. Which, in its framing within the narrative and the structure of its delivery is as perfect a combination of elegance and vulgarity as you could wish for.

Here is humanity and friendship, children who echo their parents’ actions no matter what the parents do, and who don’t realise they are growing old until they see the liberation it gives them. But most of all here are normal people, getting on and coping with life.

As such, it is a huge celebration of life itself. Of course it is about the making of a calendar, but most of all it shows that under our clothes we are all the same. No matter how much is sagging.

Running time 2 hours 40 minutes including one interval
Festival Theatre, 13/29 Nicolson Street EH8 9FT. Phone booking: 0131 529 6000
Tuesday 2– Saturday 13 October 2018
Evenings Tue – Sat: 7.30 pm.
Matinees Weds, Thurs, Sat: 2.30 pm
Tickets: Click here to buy online.

Tour website:;
Facebook: @TheGirlsMusical.
Twitter: @thegirlsmusical.

The Original London Cast soundtrack (MP3 & CD) and original movie are available on Amazon. Click images for details:

Calendar Girls – The Musical on tour:
2 – 13 October 2018 Edinburgh
Festival Theatre
0131 529 6000 Book online
16 – 20 October 2018 Leicester
De Montfort Hall
0116 233 3111 Book online
23 – 27 October 2018 Llandudno
Venue Cymru
01492 872000 Book online
30 October – 10 November 2018 Salford
Lowry Theatre
08432 086000 Book online
13 – 17 November 2018 Stoke-on-Trent
Regent Theatre
0844 871 7649 Book online
20 – 24 November 2018 Hull
New Theatre
01482 300 300 Book online
27 November – 1 December 2018 Liverpool
08448 713 017 Book online
8 – 19 January 2019 Southampton
The Mayflower Theatre
02380 711811 Book online
22 January – 2 February 2019 Dublin
Bord Gais Energy Theatre
0818 719 377 Book online
5 – 16 February 2019 Norwich
Theatre Royal
01603 63 00 00 Book online
19 February – 2 March 2019 Aberdeen
His Majesty’s Theatre
01224 641122 Book online
5 – 16 March 2019 Dartford
Orchard Theatre
01322 220000 Book online
19 – 23 March 2019 Sunderland
Sunderland Empire
0844 871 3022 Book online
26 – 30 March 2019 Woking
New Victoria
0844 871 7645 Book online
2 – 13 April 2019 Sheffield
Lyceum Theatre
0114 249 6000 Book online
16 – 20 April 2019 Oxford
New Theatre
0844 871 3020 Book online
23 – 27 April 2019 Southend on Sea
Cliffs Pavilioin
01702 351135 Book online
30 April – 11 May 2019 Cardiff
Wales Millennium Centre
029 2063 6464 Book online
14 – 25 May 2019 Belfast
Grand Opera House
02890 241919 Book online
28 May – 8 Jun 2019 Birmingham
0844 338 5000 Book online

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