Calendar Girls: The Musical – Review – Sheffield Lyceum
By Helen Johnston, April 2019
There have been many copycat versions of nude charity calendars but nothing can beat the bravery of the originals, the women of Rylstone and District WI who shed their clothes along with their staid image.
The 12 ladies of a certain age dared to bare to raise money in memory of the husband of one of them, John Baker, who died five months after being diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
That was in 1998 and in the years since they posed for their calendar, the women have raised more than £5m. Not bad considering they only set out to raise £500 for a sofa to put in the waiting room at Skipton hospital.
Four of those women were invited on to the Lyceum stage at the end of the opening night, to rapturous applause from an audience already on its feet giving a standing ovation to the cast.
Their story has become a worldwide sensation and inspired Gary Barlow to join forces with his friend Tim Firth, writer of the film and play, to produce a musical version of Calendar Girls.
There are plenty of laughs as the more unconventional members of this Yorkshire Dales WI rail against the constraints imposed by conventional chairwoman Marie, played by the excellently snooty Fern Britton, the only one who doesn’t disrobe for the hilarious calendar shoot scene.
Annie (Anna-Jane Casey) is the one who finds herself widowed and whose grief inspires her friends to take action. The scene when John (Phil Corbitt) departs life’s stage is poignant and handled beautifully.
Loose Women favourite Denise Welch is Celia, the former air hostess who is a source of gossip at her husband’s golf club and who gets some of the biggest laughs, along with Sara Crowe who plays the ditsy Ruth, whose unhappy marriage leads her to bake vast amounts of scones and turn to the vodka bottle at times of stress.
Her drunken entrance onto the nude photo shoot is very funny and she deserves extra credit for managing to climb naked on to a table behind flowers and cakes, while still preserving her modesty.
Three of the women’s teenage children bring more laughs as they cringe with embarrassment and shock at their mothers’ plan to reveal all (or nearly all) to the world.
All credit to these actresses who aren’t afraid to reveal their un-Photoshopped bodies in all their glorious normality – one or two even prepared to flash their boobs in cheerful abandonment.
This is a wonderful affirmation of female friendship and the determination of middle-aged women not to be put off by a society which favours youth.