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Calendar Girls The Musical: New Wimbledon Theatre (and touring)

October 8, 2019

In an interesting quirk of fate, the monkey caught this tour in a theatre designed by the same person who designed the show’s 2017 West End home, the Phoenix. It loved the show then, apart from the depressingly army-green overbearing set. That’s now gone, replaced by a beautifully understated rural Yorkshire scene-scape from Robert Jones. With Oliver Fenwick working seasonal lighting magic, the actors have somewhere mood-perfect on which to build the story.

Nothing changes in Yorkshire, as cancer victim John “Clarkey” Clarke (Phil Corbitt) sings to open the show on a simplified – and far more effective – note than the original. This decent man-of-the-soil and his devoted wife Annie (Sarah Jane Buckley) face the worst and lose. Buckley’s “Scarborough” contrasts with “Very Slightly Almost” to rip the heart from the audience even before the show gets to its well-known theme.

Anarchic friend Chris (Rebecca Storm, with comedy magic timing) comes up with the idea of the staid Women’s Institute producing the now famous nude calendar, and the rest is how the community make it happen.

Some have the figure – Celia (Lisa Maxwell) with a neat “I’ve Had A Little Work Done.” Some find eventually liberation, Ruth (Julia Hills, wonderful depth of characterisation and duet with her Russian Friend) and retired head teacher Jessie (Ruth Madoc on intense good form). Fascinating too is vicar’s daughter and single mother Cora (Sue Devaney) whose calculations of just where the boundaries lie are an interesting watch.

A sub-plot for the various children gives Jenny (Isabel Caswell) a particular chance to shine, with Tommo (Tyler Dobbs) and Danny (Danny Howker) powerless as teenage lads are with young ladies who know. Actually, in this village, the other men – Colin (Sebastian Abineri), Rod (Ian Mercer – usual reliable amusement) and Denis (Alan Stocks) aren’t doing so well either, as their act two trio demonstrates.

Director Matt Ryan realises that the overarching theme is the series of snapshots – a world frozen in time, yet each image effecting change. The key moments are thus captured, each one – including the now legendary calendar shots themselves – made memorable as the staging reflects the concept.

The show is noticeably tighter and funnier than its West End incarnation, with a particularly good use for home-made wine suggested (if one can see to do so). With a first-rate musical score containing beautiful harmonies and the odd hilariously raucous number, the entire audience become involved enough to cheer spontaneously as photographer Lawrence (Derek Elroy with nice hesitancy) creates each month’s pose.

It’s human, very British, with deeply moving storyline, haunting music and brutally honest lyrics. Putting coins in the bucket in the foyer afterwards for the charity feels like hope on the strength of it, that even in the face of such personal suffering there are sunflowers that may grow.

If the show comes near you, don’t miss your chance to see it.


5 stars, standing ovation.

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