Calendar Girls is based on a true story that follows eleven members of the Yorkshire’s Women’s Institute when the life-affirming leading ladies unify for a charity drive. With plans to break ageist expectations and stigma with the creation of a naked calendar, the middle-aged group set out to raise money for Bloodwise cancer research.
Developed into a feel-good film starring Helen Mirren in 2003, the story was once again reworked into an award-winning musical by Gary Barlow and Tim Firth in 2015. The success of the show has it back to the Lowry where its Yorkshire inspired story has sunflowers spilling out into the Lowry foyer. The personal story of Chris (played by Rebecca Storm) who aims to celebrate the life of her husband after his death to cancer, summons the support of her community to keep his memory alive and raise money for research.
Rather than follow the downward spiral of terminal cancer with a rollercoaster of emotions drawn out through the scenes, the music preserves . Keeping its audience on a waltzer of emotions, spinning between jokes and emotive songs that push the narrative forward without becoming too disheartening. Alongside the live band, 18 hits penned by Barlow and Firth bring a pop appeal to the well-established story. Its unbusy set keeps the spotlight on its seven main cast members, allowing the powerful story and its themes of female empowerment to remain honest and relatable.
An abundance of personality through its disarmingly charming cast split the story into mini side narratives that keep its plot fast-paced and its joke counter high. Each with a solo performance that captures their personal growth and heroism, the mature voices are not clumped together as a matching monolithic group. their connection is clearly one of support, with their individual stories strong and convincing enough to stand on their own. The show includes multiple appealing elements as Barlow talents stand firmly behind some of Britain’s finest long-standing female actresses.
Vividly painting scenes through song, Rebecca Storm and Anna-Jane Casey perform numbers as bright as the sunflowers on set. Up-tempo tracks finish on the highest note possible, with the artists stretching out the final word with both fists punching the air. The production has attracted a great collection of stars, including Hi-De-Hi’s Ruth Madoc as Jessie and Loose Women’s Denise Welch as Celia. Helping to promote the very English and extraordinarily inspirational tale, the ensemble cast appear laid-back and likable. Finally, after exposing themselves and the audience to a personality-driven calendar posting with teapots, Bakewell tarts and bouquets, the show ends with an encore from the original Calendar Girls who since their formation have raised over six million for the Bloodwise charity. Talk about doing small things in great ways.