Calendar Girls at New Wimbledon Theatre
Calendar Girls tells the true story about a group of ordinary women in a small Yorkshire Women’s Institute and how together they manage to do something extraordinary. Spoiler: Annie loses her husband, John, to leukaemia at a young age so along with her best friend Chris, Annie decides to raise money to purchase a new settee, for the relatives room at the hospital where John was treated. However, they choose to do this in the most unconventional way for a W.I (by doing a nude calendar), breaking down preconceptions of what it is like to be in this group and empowering women for all their beauties.This is a show that will leave your heart full, your eyes wet and cheeks hurting from all of the laughing.
The whole production was very polished, transitions were seamless and the story moved at a good pace. This is clearly down to the well thought through direction by Jonathan O’Boyle. There were defined characters and strong on stage relationships, which made us as an audience member care about each of their stories. This was extremely evident by the wild laughter but also sobbing going on around me – ok… me included!. Annie (Tanya Franks) and Chris (Amy Robbins) were solid leads for this show and their heartfelt performances were stellar. My heart broke for Annie on several occasions as she reminisced about the good times but also as she looks forward in the song ‘Scarborough’ which was performed full of raw realness. Saying this, Chris’ number ‘Sunflowers’ was an absolute highlight of the show for me and from the moment Robbins walked on stage, I had a hard time watching anyone else. Even though there are obvious leads in this show, the rest of the cast weren’t forgotten about or just moving around in the shadows. Each cast member had their own musical number and were given the opportunity to add a sprinkle of joy to a devastating story.
There is of course the iconic moment in the story where the women pose onstage naked but strategically placed behind a ray of excellent props e.g. cake stands, knitting balls, flowers and so on for their calendar shoot. The cast worked so well together to create such an empowering moment for women of all ages, shapes and sizes. The ability to support each other as cast members but also characters was beautiful and I felt extremely proud to be a woman during that moment.
As mentioned, Robbins’ version of ‘Sunflowers’ was a smash hit and most cast members performed their solo songs well. Especially Lyn Paul as Jessie with ‘What Age Expects’ and Marti Webb as Celia with ‘So I’ve had a Little Work Done’. I did find that the cast were strongest vocally when performing numbers as an ensemble – their harmonies were flawless. I may have to put this down to there being a better balance between the cast and the band when they were in unison; some of the solos/ solo lines were difficult to hear due to these balancing issues which is a shame.
The set was minimalistic which I loved and every bit of the set was used in such smart and useful ways. I was transported to a hospital waiting room with the likes of a settee being brought on and placed in the centre of the community hall. The scene changes were quick/ efficient which I was thankful for. Lighting throughout the show was complementary and while costumes were also simple, each character had a clear style and the quick changes were executed seamlessly.
I had a wonderful evening watching this Barlow and Firth adaptation of Calendar Girls. If you are looking for a pleasant evening at the theatre with a show that’s full of heart then I would definitely recommend this. One note; pack your tissues, you’ll need them.
Review by Laura Whittingham
Calendar Girls is playing at New Wimbledon Theatre until 4th November 2023 when it then continues its national tour. Find out more about the show here.