Reviewed by Kim Bickerdike
I was really excited when I heard the Calendar Girls musical production was touring as I enjoyed the 2003 film and am a huge fan of Gary Barlow (and Take That). When I saw that it was showing at Liverpool Empire I knew my friend and I were going to have a great night at my favourite theatre.
When we arrived there was a life sized cardboard cut-out of a female body with well-placed iced buns covering all of the necessary body parts in the foyer. There was plenty of laughter as ladies took it in turn to pose for their best ‘calendar shot’
We took our seats and the atmosphere was buzzing as groups of women of varying ages, chatted and laughed in their respective groups. The theatre was packed ad as soon as the lights went out, the audience fell silent and the performance began. Instantly we were transported to the Yorkshire Dales with the set providing us a typical Yorkshire scene of green rolling hills and big blue skies.
The story focusses on a Women’s Institute group in Knapely, we got to learn about their friendships, marriages, and hobbies. The women are all involved in entering the baking competition for the spring fete and whilst working on and perfecting their bakes one of the characters Annie (played by Anna-Jane Casey) is dealing with her husband John (played by Phil Corbitt) diagnosis of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. There are plenty of songs throughout the performance which describe the emotions of Annie perfectly. The show takes you through the highs and lows of John’s diagnosis and will leave you in fits of laughter and also with a tear in your eye, it’s very cleverly written and emotional roll coaster is the most accurate way to describe it.
Unfortunately, John’s cancer isn’t treatable and as he deals with his treatment and deterioration of his health, the passing of time is detailed beautifully using seasonal flowers at the local florist which is run by Annie and John’s friends of 40 years Chris (played by Rebecca Storm) and Colin (played by Sebastian Abineri). When John sadly passes away, Annie and Chris want to raise some money to buy a new settee for the relatives’ room at the hospital where John spent his final days. Many ideas are discussed until Chris has the brainwave of doing a nude calendar of the ladies in the WI. This idea is met with resistance from the other WI members, but Chris manages to persuade them to get involved.
The second act is the bit we had all been waiting for… the calendar shoot! The whole audience erupted into fits of laughter as the ladies started to get their kit off. Cora (played by Karen Dunbar) who is the vicars’ daughter, Celia (played by Denise Welsh) and Ruth (played by Sara Crowe) all take part and pose nude for their month. These women were not afraid to bare some flesh and the audience whooped and cheered throughout this scene. The highlight for me was Jessie (played by Ruth Madoc) a 75 year old retired school teacher who positions her knitting perfectly for her shot. She gets the biggest laugh of the night and was fantastic in this role.
Overall this is one of the funniest, clever and empowering bits of theatre I have ever seen. The show ends with a full ensemble musical number with all characters adorned in sunflowers and is a brilliant, humorous and upbeat finale.
At the end of the performance the audience gave a well-deserved standing ovation and the applause went on for so long that we missed our train home but we were more than happy to stay and applaud these ladies. This is a must see show, it’s simple yet cleverly written, the music takes you on a journey through the trials and tribulations of life and the acting and comradery between the women was uplifting and heart-warming. I could watch this show again and again and I encourage you to do the same. The show is also supported by Bloodwise, a charity who helps and cares for people with blood cancer, there were plenty of buckets for donations and I thought it was a nice touch by the production and theatre to allow the audience to be able to keep up the good work started by the original Calendar Girls in 1998
A 5 star show!
Tickets cost from £15.90 to £50.15 (plus £3.65 transaction fee).
Calendar Girls is at the Liverpool Empire from 27 November to 1 December 2018, for more information or to book tickets visit www.atgtickets.com/liverpool or call the box office on 0844 8713017.
Liverpool Empire Theatre, Lime Street, Liverpool, Merseyside, L1 1JE | 0844 8713017