For those not familiar with Calendar Girls, the play (and film) is based on a true story. In the late 1990s of a group of Yorkshire women from Rylstone Women’s Institute decided to raise money to buy a sofa for the waiting room at Skipton General Hospital, where one of their husbands was being treated for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. This is a story of sadness, humour, and determination. Their fundraising methods were far from traditional – they had themselves photographed nude for a calendar!
Calendar Girls the Musical
Written by Gary Barlow and Tim Firth and directed by Jonathan O’Boyle, this adaptation is moving, thoughtful and beautifully comedic. Barlow’s musical score is punchy and upbeat, contrasting well with the misery and upset of the subject matter. The songs he’s written for this stage production add a poignancy that really tugs at the heartstrings.
The simple set stage of a local village hall soon became a hospital waiting room, as cancer patient John (Colin R Campbell) waits to see his oncologist. In real life, John Richard Baker sadly died from blood cancer at the age of 54. In the play, his death was sympathetically portrayed. He describes his favourite plant, the sunflower, saying “The last phase is the most glorious before it turns to seed”; and it’s clear this aptly describes his own demise.
The rest of the cast were equally strong with commanding performances from the Calendar Girls themselves, Lyn Paul (The New Seekers), Maureen Nolan (The Nolans), Tanya Franks (Eastenders), Amy Robbins (Coronation Street), Honeysuckle Weeks (Foyle’s War), Paula Tappenden (Blood Brothers) and Liz Carney who was superb too standing in for Marti Webb.
The first half of the show moves along swiftly as the different personalities of the Calendar Girls are revealed. Then with the second half of the evening, the story moves on to the point where the actual photographs are taken, artistically (and strategically of course), by Rod (Graham Macduff). This scene thankfully doesn’t reveal too much of the actors themselves, though it was a well-rehearsed triumph of a visual deception – one false slip and it would have been a different show entirely!
With only nine characters on stage the superbly talented cast were convincing and believable. Though watching this as a Yorkshireman who lives not far from Skipton, I was aware of a couple of times the Yorkshire accents slipped slightly.
A standing ovation was rightly received from the audience – which included three of the original Calendar Girls. To date, five million pounds has been raised by the Calendar Girls for Blood Cancer UK – long may they and this current touring production continue to bloom. A riveting, emotional yet funny story – make a date on your calendar to see this Yorkshire phenomenon.
Leeds Grand Theatre – until Saturday 11.November.
Hull New Theatre – 28 November to 2 December.