Review: Calendar Girls the Musical at The Lowry

“We are going to need to considerably bigger buns!”

Twenty years ago a group of women from a Yorkshire Women’s Institute (WI) group ditched the jam and Jerusalem in favour of baring their bodies for a nude calendar shoot to raise money for one of their fellow members whose husband had passed away from non-Hodgkins Lymphoma.

Their alternative WI calendar (which usually features rolling hills and homemade bakes) made headlines worldwide, resulting in the women smashing their target and a Hollywood film being made of their story starring Helen Mirren and Julie Walters!

Since then it has become a successful stage play and more recently a musical penned by Tim Firth and Take That’s Gary Barlow. It is this incarnation which is visiting The Lowry during November as part of its UK tour, complete with a cast of familiar faces from the world of TV and film.

Starring in the lead role is Broughton born Anna-Jane Casey who excels as Annie, the woman distraught at losing her husband and soul mate John to cancer. Her rendition of Scarborough is heartbreakingly beautiful as she brings Barlow’s bitter sweet lyrics to life proclaiming how everyday life won’t be the same if ‘you’re not here’.

Anna’s on stage relationship with Rebecca Storm, who plays her best mate Chris, is a joy to watch and together they bounce off each other, giving such realism to their friendship that it warms your heart.

In fact, all of the actresses playing the Calendar Girls look like they have bonded extremely well and are having so much fun on stage that it is truly infectious.

Denise Welch is perfectly cast as Celia, the former air hostess determined to turn back time for as long as she can get away with, proud of the fact she’s had ‘a little work done’. Welch’s comedic timing is just fabulous and her vocals also pack a mean punch.

After a 30 year absence from the stage, TV presenter Fern Britton returns to the boards and is also a joyous surprise as Marie the stalwart WI leader who whips the ladies into shape.

Stealing the show though in her 70’s is Welsh wonder Ruth Madoc who has the audience in stitches as Jessie, making the most of Tim Firth’s fabulous one-liners and managing to get the biggest cheer of the night when she strips down to her birthday suit with just some knitting to hide her modesty!

Jos Houben’s comedy staging and Matt Ryan’s direction come into full force in the de-robing scene when the props for the calendar are expertly wheeled in and out and the women work together to put each other in place for their shot, with cheeky glee. It’s a brilliant moment to witness!

As you can imagine, Calendar Girls the Musical is ALL about the ladies but they are equally supported by the male cast members playing their respected husbands, both Ian Mercer as Rod and Phil Corbitt as John make your heart swell with their portrayal of the supportive partners.

A special mention must also go to the younger cast members Isabel Caswell as Jenny, Tyler Dobbs as Tommo and Danny Howker as Danny – the talented trio act their socks off and have a brilliant rapport and their delivery of their lines is perfection.

The musical has gone through some tweaks since it opened back in 2015 with changes to set, dialogue and the addition of new songs – all of which got a great reception from the crowd. On press night the cast were joined onstage at the curtain call by the original Calendar Girls who appeared to rapturous and well deserved applause.

This is definitely a musical that will leave you feeling inspired and make you cherish your friends and family. If you want a huge dose of Yorkshire Pride and a great night at the theatre can’t go wrong with paying Calendar Girls the Musical a visit whilst it is here in Salford.

Runs until 10th November at The Lowry, Salford Quays.

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