Calendar Girls at the Orchard Theatre

Calendar Girls The Musical was inspired by the true story of a group of ladies, who decide to appear naked in a Women’s Institute calendar in order to raise funds to buy a much-needed new settee for the local hospital’s relatives’ room, in memory of one of their husbands John Clarke.

This musical comedy, which is based in a Yorkshire village, takes us on a journey into the lives of the characters and their families, showing us the effects that this has on the husbands, wives and children, and how a group of ordinary ladies achieved something quite extraordinary in the wake of a tragic situation.

This esteemed cast of consummate professionals told the story beautifully. Each and every cast member gave a superb performance. However, some stand out moments came from Anna-Jane Casey, playing the wife of John Clarke ‘Annie’, when she sang a most beautiful version of ‘Scarborough’. The lyrics about how life will no longer be the same, were very touching. It was an emotional and heart felt performance. There were many moments I could have picked, but this was such a poignant and thought-provoking scene it deserved a mention specifically. Playing the part of close friend ‘Chris’ was Rebecca Storm. ‘Chris’ comes up with the idea of a nude calendar and has to convince the other WI ladies to get on board with this rather controversial plan, totally going against the stereotypical calendar of the WI. The onstage relationship between Anna-Jane and Rebecca was simply superb and a joy to watch. The comedic timing is seamless and vocally are both matched to perfection. The casting of Sara Crow as ‘Ruth’ was pure genius. She was funny, moving and gave some light relief all in the right places. Her performance of ‘My Russian Friend and I’ was wonderfully sentimental.

A special mention must also go to Pauline Daniels, who has stepped in to shoes of Ruth Madoc, playing the part of ‘Jessie’ as a retired school teacher with ease.

‘Celia’ played by Denise Welch delivers her big number ‘I’ve Had A Little Work Done’ superbly and Karen Bunbar as ‘Cora’, the feisty single mum to a teenage boy, completed the solid WI ladies of Napely. Phil Corbett as ‘John’, portrayed the character with sensitivity and humour equally.

Calendar Girls has been superbly cast and, as well as the WI ladies, the supporting cast must be mentioned for their amazing performances too.

The anticipated moment when the WI ladies pose behind the strategically placed props and cakes, was met with cheers and applause from the audience. Each and everyone embraced their part/character with professionalism and confidence. This was appreciated by the audience alike, resulting in a standing ovation!

The Orchard Theatre is a touring theatre and is lucky enough to have a huge stage. The minimalist set, comprising of hills and the inside of the WI hall, worked well in this huge space. The use of props and ‘hall lights’, which flew in to depict the WI hall, was a subtle change which worked well.  I felt that, at times, the lighting was a little dark in places and we seemed to lose the actors faces and the orchestra was occasionally overpowering the singing and we lost some of the dialogue now and again. That said, it did not diminish from what was a fabulous show. If you want to see a show which takes you on a roller coaster ride of emotions from laughter to tears to shock and jaw dropping amazement, you will not be disappointed.

Calendar Girls is on at the Orchard Theatre Dartford from the 5-16 March and is a show not to be missed. You will leave the theatre having laughed, cried, cheered and gasped but mostly you will be left with a warm feeling inside having seen simply a fabulous show.

Review by Sally Smith

If you like this review of Calendar Girls you might also like my review of The Band, Dirty Dancing and Rocky Horror Show

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