This musical is the sort that get you hooked the moment the curtain rises and it continues to please for its entire duration. Calendar Girls is the award winning musical written by Tim Firth and Gary Barlow and following the hit film and play, the musical version is undoubtedly set to follow suit. With an audience of largely middle aged (and slightly older) women this was an audience who had come to celebrate nudity, Yorkshire and the power of women for sure.

The story, as most will know, is about a group of Yorkshire women who come up with the idea of raising money for a sofa for the hospital where Annie’s husband John was treated for his Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. They do this by posing nude for a calendar. However the story is also about much more than this - the story demonstrates independence, sexuality and comradery amongst friends. It does not dwell on the grief that is experienced by Annie, however it is sufficiently expressed in the performance enough to create emotional loss to a character we meet in the first half only.

With standout performances from Anna- Jane Casey who played ‘Annie’ as the best friend to ‘Chris’ (Rebecca Storm) and the grief stricken widow of John (Phil Corbett) - her portrayal of a woman experiencing grief with life going on around her was both touching and endearing.

Denise Welch played ‘Celia’, a regular at the golf club and was a natural for this part with her comedic timing. At times Welch was almost laughing at herself particularly with the references to the surgical enhancements she had as an ‘air hostess’. Comedy could also be found through many moments on stage by the amazing Ruth Madoc who played Jessie the retired teacher and Sara Crowe who played Ruth and was hilarious throughout.

The surprise of the night, in a very good way, was the portrayal of ‘Marie’ who was played by Fern Britton. She was made for the role of Marie and her ‘posh’ more traditional WI ways were expressed to the max by Britton. Britton had smattering of a Celia Imrie type character at times to her part and she certainly suits the stage.

As an entire performance this was a touching journey expressed through Barlow and Firths writing of each woman individually. Each woman not only played their part in the central story but they also took the audience on a personal journey too through individual characters. There is undoubtedly a Calendar Girl that each member of the audience could relate to whether you are a retired teacher, a single mother or even the daughter of a Vicar.

The ‘calendar moment’ when the women individually stripped off was executed very well indeed. With the other women supporting each one in turn when removing the gowns, the audience were clearly enjoying this hilarious part of the show.

The music was almost as if you had heard it many times before – even when you hadn’t. Written with each woman in mind and celebrating what it was to be from Yorkshire, Barlow and Firth’s music had it all. The song ‘Yorkshire’ and ‘Sunflower’ were the most memorable.

The staging was simple and wholly effective as a backdrop of the Yorkshire countryside and the props and set were spot on. Chris Marcus and Jonathon Hall must be applauded for this. The second half possibly spent too long over the summer fete scene but other than that the two halves were equally weighted.

Calendar Girls is uplifting, emotional and extremely sincere. It leaves you with a feeling of positivity and an appreciation of all that is Yorkshire. It is a touching story of friendship and with this in mind, how anything can be achieved. The standing ovation by the entire audience at the end was entirely well deserved.

Reviewer: Angela Kelly

Reviewed: 13th November 2018

North West End Rating: ★★★★