"An inspirational and uplifting show"
by Jill Lawrie for remotegoat on 14/11/19

Returning to Chichester where it all began over 20 years ago, is Tim Firth’s “Calendar Girls” and this time as a musical, Tim having collaborated with childhood friend Gary Barlow. Both the critically acclaimed play and the film starring Helen Mirren and Julie Walters, have been hugely successful and now this latest rendition is touring the UK to packed audiences. This worldwide sensation has so far raised nearly £5 million for the cancer research charity Bloodline. A remarkable story of ordinary women doing extraordinary things has become a global phenomenon far beyond anyone’s wildest dreams.

Back in 1998 the close-knit community of a Yorkshire Dales WI rallied to support their colleague whose husband was tragically diagnosed with terminal cancer, surviving just 5 months from the diagnosis. Forthright Chris, a close friend of widowed Annie, decided to raise enough funds to buy a sofa for the relatives’ room at the local hospital, Annie having endured many miserable hours in the uncomfortable surroundings. In a flash of genius Chris comes up with the idea of a Pirelli style calendar, each month depicting a nude member of their group. Struggling against low self-esteem and self-doubt this eclectic mix of personalities finally band together for the photoshoot where dressing gowns are whipped off and buns, jam, knitting and flowers are all strategically placed for their risque positions.
A curved landscaped backdrop complete with distant stone cottage assists the minimal staging of authentic farm gate and stone wall to provide a tranquil, pastoral setting for this small band of WI members.
After a slow start this comic and poignant story accelerates into the second half with some outstanding acting from the female cast. Lisa Maxwell excels as the surgically enhanced Celia, in particular her very entertaining musical number “I’ve had a Little Work Done”. Ruth Madoc as the mature former school teacher Jessie along with Sue Devaney (Cora) both shine in their respective roles. Sarah Jane Buckley captures superbly grief-stricken Annie and the complexity of her emotions while a powerful performance of blunt, plain-speaking Chris is given by Rebecca Storm. Mention too for all 3 of the offspring Isabel Caswell, Tyler Dobbs and Danny Howker who brilliantly and amusingly bring these teenagers to life.

The photoshoot choreography is stage managed to perfection as this valiant cast once more create the inspirational tale into another smash hit.

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