United Kingdom Theatre Critic
Calendar Girls the Musical, based on a true story, follows members of a Yorkshire Village’s Women’s institute, who pose naked for a calendar to raise money to get a sofa for a hospital ward that specializes in leukemia. This is after one of their members loses her husband to cancer.
Anna-Jane Casey stars as Annie, a woman struck with grief after her husband passes from cancer. Anna-Jane's performance is heartbreakingly beautiful, the way she drifts through the lyrics, and yet strikes the audience with such raw emotion, shows how remarkable Anna-Jane's talent is. Annie’s best friend, Chris is portrayed by Rebecca Storm, who gives us such a true performance of a strong Yorkshire mother, stumbling through life trying to keep her and her family’s life afloat. Rebecca’s vocal talent is impeccable, not only that but she also radiates energy, while also owning the emotion and characterization of Chris.
Karen Dunbar is superb as Cora, to the Scottish audience, she is an obvious favourite, not just because she is a national treasure, but because her comedy timing is on point and the way she owns the stage is incredible. The highlight of the photoshoot sequence is when Cora strips, just due to how hysterical Karen’s facial expression and reactions are. Also, her performance of Who Wants A Silent Night is an absolute delight. It’s great to finally see (a lot of) Karen back on stage, where she belongs! Another standout in this fantastically strong cast was the fabulous Denise Welsh, as the flirtatious Celia. Denise’s portrayal was hilarious, she gave such energy and devotion to the role, and gave her all in the musical numbers. It’s great to see her take a turn in musical theatre.
Ruth Madoc as Jessie is unbelievably funny, the humor just flows naturally from her, she shows the younger members of the cast how to own a stage with her years of experience. Sara Crowe as Ruth also supplies a lot of laughs with some great comic timing and presents a great character journey to the audience. Fern Britton is surprisingly brilliant as Marie, having not had much acting experience, the journalist supplies a very strong performance as the part antagonist of the story. Fern could very well make a successful career switch if this is anything to go by.
Phil Corbitt gives a truly lovely performance as John, he supplies a portrayal of a beautiful human perfectly. John is almost instantly into the audience’s hearts, and that is purely to how open Phil has made the character. Derek Elroy plays Lawrence, a character which doesn’t feature as much, and is more of a supervisor for the chaos the ladies let unfold in the photoshoot. There are some nice moments with this character, however, there was some comedy that was missed which the script suggested. But overall this is a stable delivery which the audience enjoy.
Ian Mercer, Alan Stocks and Sebastian Abineri supply great performances as the supportive husbands of the strong women in this Yorkshire village. They supply great supporting characters, which don’t take away from the roles that the women supply in this story.
Danny Howker is outstanding as Danny, he is an ample example of what young talent is capable of, his vocal talent is great, along with his character development and his comic timing is flawless. There is no doubt of a strong acting career for this young actor. Isabel Caswell as Jenny gives a terrific performance as an unruly teenager, who has been through tough times. There is a lot of honesty in the portrayal which brings a sense of realism into this twist in the storyline. And how can we forget the cheeky Tommo played by Tyler Dobbs, who must have taken a few notes from Karen, as his humor is on point and brings so much energy and fun to stage.
Gary Barlow and Tim Firth write this musical, the script is layered and just bursts with life. The style of music featured is filled with emotion, and character. There are some fun numbers which let the audience bop along. However, there are some numbers which are very wordy and more monologues over music. Also, some of the songs do sound similar, but this can be forgiven due to the way they are performed with such power and relevance to the story. Matt Ryan directs all this to stage brilliantly, managing to contain the madness, and retain the novelty seen in the play previously. This musical is not like any production you will see in the world right now. Robert Jones’ is the set/costume designer for this production, he matches the quality of script, plus performance, by supplying high quality costume, and a stunning set. Oliver Fenwick’s naturalistic lightling design matches the quality the rest of this production holds.
This musical is one of the funniest and most moving musicals in the world right now. The cast and creative team make this the best possible production it can be. It’s a realistic British musical which showcases a true story of woman coming together and powering through. This is an easy 5/5 star review for Calendar Girls the Musical. Catch it while it’s at Capital Theatre’s Festival Theatre until Saturday 13th October: