Calendar Girls the Musical – Review – Bradford Alhambra
By Christine Goode, January 2024
Kicking off the new spring season at Bradford’s Alhambra is the beloved Calendar Girls, featuring a plethora of stars from stage and screen, expertly bringing this reimagined version of Tim Firth and Gary Barlow’s musical to life. Be prepared for a rollercoaster of emotions!
For those unaware, Calendar Girls is a true story about a local Women’s Institute based just outside Skipton. A close-knit group of friends is shattered at the news of their good friend Annie’s husband, John Baker, receiving a diagnosis of non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in February 1998.
The group rallies around Annie and her family, determined to help. During one of many amusing and serious discussions, it is suggested that they make their calendar in the style of the Pirelli one. Unfortunately, only five months later, John lost his brave battle, leaving Annie and the group shell-shocked. However, after the funeral, the idea re-emerges, and the women go on to make the iconic nude calendar to raise money for Leukaemia Research in Leeds (now called Blood Cancer UK). To date, this amazing group has raised more than £6 million for Blood Cancer UK.
Such a story deserves to be told and rightly has been, starting with media coverage in England and leading to worldwide news. It inspired a film in 2003 with a stellar cast of British actors, a play in 2008, and eventually, a musical adapted by Gary Barlow and Tim Firth in 2016.
Barlow and Firth bring their expertise with songs such as ‘My Russian Friend and I,’ ‘So I’ve Had A Little Work Done,’ and the earworm ‘Yorkshire,’ which is still in my head 24-hours later!
This current production has been reimagined, with a brand-new set by Gary McCann offering an impressive Methodist church hall instead of the rolling Yorkshire Dales seen in the original musical version. The hall is impressive, making the meetings believable while also doubling up as the hospital. However, it does seem stark and minimal with few props. I did miss the green grass and village feel associated with the Yorkshire Dales.
The script is brilliant, filled with humour and sharp comebacks that resonate with local references. The surrounding audience’s appreciation was evident as we laughed at the northern wit and charm. This is all delivered impeccably by a tight, albeit small, cast. Annie, played by Laurie Brett, gives a heart-wrenching performance as the grieving widow to John, portrayed by Colin R Campbell, who gives a memorable performance as a man accepting his fate but caring for his wife and friends to the end. Samantha Seager is fabulous as Chris, her energy and enthusiasm infectious as she rallies to keep morale high within the group. Lynn Paul and Maureen Nolan both deliver masterclass performances in tackling delicate subject matter.
My favourite scene is the calendar shoot, which is hilarious yet tastefully done by these very brave actors. The well-known iconic line, “Rod, we’re going to need considerably bigger buns!” had everybody howling with laughter.
The simple finale, which could be mistaken for an additional scene, would have benefitted from displaying the finished photos on a screen, adding substance to the story.
The show deals with heavy issues but portrays them in the true Yorkshire way we all know and love. There may be tears, but there is also much laughter and happiness. We were on our feet at the end, showing our appreciation for this heartbreaking but wonderful story.
‘Calendar Girls The Musical’ is at Bradford Alhambra until 3rd February 2024
images: Jack Merriman