I remember buying the original Women’s Institute nude calendar way back in 1999. It might be worth something now – but, alas, it probably went to the great recycler in the sky.
Calendar Girls The Musical brought the story of the calendar’s inception to the Hull New Theatre on Tuesday evening.
All the action takes place in the village hall of the small Yorkshire village of Cracoe. Under a fabulous vaulted ceiling (a remarkable stage design) we witnessed seven local ladies attending their usual WI meeting. Some took the proceedings seriously, others found them a bit mundane.
This motley tight-knit group – Annie Clarke (Tanya Franks), Ruth (Maureen Nolan), Jessie (Lyn Paul), Chris (Amy Robbins), Marie (Paula Tappenden), Celia (Marti Webb) and Cora (Honeysuckle Weeks) – are thrown even closer with the death of Annie’s lovely husband.
John Clarke (Colin R Campbell), died of blood cancer, leaving his wife Annie devastated and her WI friends deeply shocked.
Campbell plays John being full of amusing energy that gradually ebbs away to him weakened by illness and eventually dying,
Scenes of him and his wife and friends seated on the uncomfy sofa in the hospital relatives’ room are both poignant and funny.
His “death” scene is quite moving – no histrionics, he just stands up from his wheelchair in the village hall, and, in an eerie spotlight, shuffles off this mortal coil.
It’s his untimely death that is the catalyst for the WI ladies to come up with a money-making scheme to buy a new sofa for the hospital relatives’ room, in John’s memory. And that’s when the idea of a nude calendar is born.
After much hand-wringing, doubt and sleepless nights by the ladies, Chris’s husband and John’s friend, Rod (Graham MacDuff) is, eventually, the chosen photographer.
The day of the shoot arrives and five ladies enter the hall, in white dressing gowns – WI leader Marie and shy Ruth are missing.
Rob has very professionally set up his tripod and accessories in readiness.
Marie never shows up, but Ruth, drunk on her “Russian friend”, vodka, staggers in and gets the job done. It is all very tasteful, I must admit.
The stage setting cleverly shifts mainly between a WI village hall and a hospital. We see the scene changers, but they don’t detract in any way from events on stage.
John’s favourite flowers were sunflowers, so the screen curtain featured a huge one, and at the end of the show the cast each brought on bucketful’s of them.
The yellow of the flowers was a lovely contrast to the smart black outfits the ladies now wore.
This brand-new production, reimagined by Gary Barlow and Tim Firth, features new music played by a talented orchestra, conducted by Jordan Alexander.
The script was laugh-out-loud at times, with all voices being loud and clear and all singing voices tuneful. Everyone on stage that night played their part in ensuring us, in the well-attended theatre, went home happy bunnies.
And Blood Cancer UK benefits from each performance – just one good reason to buy a ticket for this entertaining musical, whose polished actors truly deserved the standing ovation they received on Tuesday evening
Presented by Bill Kenwright Ltd. Written by Tim Firth and Gary Barlow
Running until Saturday, December 2nd, 2023; 7.30pm nightly with 2.30pm matinees on Wednesday, Nov 29th, Thurs, Nov 30th and Sat, Dec 2nd. Tickets cost from £20. Call (01482) 300306 or visit www.hulltheatres.co.uk
Reviewer: Jackie Foottit
Reviewed: 28th November 2023
North West End UK Rating: