In 2003 British comedy delivered a gem of a film, based on a true story from a few years before about a little village in Yorkshire, a group of women from the local WI and how the community spirit rallied when one of its much-loved residents was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
How did this little village make such headlines as to have a film made about it though? Because members of the WI decided to raise funds for Leukaemia Research by making a nude calendar of course – a very British version of a nude calendar at that!
Fast forward to present day and Calendar Girls has been adapted into an on-stage musical version by Gary Barlow (Take That) and Tim Firth (who was involved in the original film screenplay.)
The Theatre Royal on arrival was vibrantly filled with buckets of beautiful Sunflowers instantly brightening up a dull and rainy day and maybe playing a part in the excited buzz that filled the air as people began to take their seats in anticipation of what was to come.
What unfolds before your eyes will leave you laughing out loud one minute and crying your eyes out the next. A wonderful performance from all the cast (including many famous faces) that had you believing they were all part of a close-knit community in Yorkshire delivering perfect one-liners, great chemistry and catchy tunes.
Fresh from her recent stint in Nottingham as Mrs Lyons in Blood Brothers, Sarah Jane Buckley (Hollyoaks) was superb as Annie. We see Annie’s world come crashing down around her as her beloved husband John (Phil Corbett) loses his fight with cancer and how true friendship gets her through the toughest of times as well as help her achieve the craziest of ideas.
Chris (Rebecca Storm) is Annie’s longest friend and has the boldness to help bring John’s original idea of a “different kind” of WI calendar to life whilst also giving it purpose – raising money for a comfy settee for the local hospital relatives room.
Convincing the rest of the WI girls to bare all resulted in some funny insights into an eclectic mix of women who just needed a gentle reminder of what makes them strong and independent.
Lesley Joseph (Birds of a Feather) as retired teacher Jessie was a great addition and delivered a meaningful number “What Age Expects”
Lisa Maxwell (The Bill) looked amazing as Celia – former air hostess trying to hide her assets to fit in with the well to do Golf Country Club ladies
Vicar’s daughter and single mum Cora (Sue Devaney – Coronation Street) and downtrodden Ruth (Julia Hills – 2point4 Children) completed the group
At the local WI new chairperson Marie (Judy Holt – Scott & Bailey) is strongly against the calendar believing it will destroy the reputation of the WI and there’s a little twist from quiet tea ladies Miss Wilson and Miss Wilson (Claudia Bradley & Ellie Leah)
Long suffering husbands of Chris, Celia and Jessie – Florist Ron (Ian Mercer – Coronation Street,) Golfer Denis (Alan Stocks) and Colin (Sebastian Abineri) deliver strong supporting roles.
We are also treated to the troubles that teenagers (and their parents) face as they embark on their last years of school. Played by Isabel Caswell, Danny Howker and Tyler Dobbs – we witnessed the antics of Jenny, fresh from boarding school and partial to sneaking in vodka, as she leads astray soon to be head boy Danny (son of Chris and Ron.) Danny is egged on by Tommo (Cora’s son) who is distracted by Celia’s assets. Three great stars of the future who fitted in perfectly and provided us all a reminder of what we got up to “back in the day.”
Completing the cast is photographer Lawrence (Derek Elroy) and Pauline Daniels playing a range of supporting roles.
For me the notable songs included “Who Wants A Silent Night?” lead by the very funny Sue Devney, Julia Hills’ “My Russian Friend And I” which she followed up with a hilarious drunken scene and the finale number “Sunflowers of Yorkshire.”
The making of the calendar was done tastefully and extremely witty and shows exactly why these women (the originals and those that have joined since) have raised and continue to raise millions of pounds for charity.
What awaits theatre goers is an unbelievably sad, hilariously funny, superbly written production that will leave you feeling heart-warmingly empowered. A rousing standing ovation at the end showing exactly how 2½ hrs of great British humour can make any rainy day feel so much better.
Definitely not one to miss!
Calendar Girls, Theatre Royal Nottingham until Saturday 6th July