|Date||14th June 2022|
|Venue||The Little Theatre|
|Type of Production||Musical|
|Musical Director||Felix SÜrbe|
|Written By||Gary Barlow and Tim Firth|
Author: Nigel Hancocks
Calendar Girls was first titled ‘The Girls’ and is a musical written by Gary Barlow the song writer and lead singer with ‘Take That’. It was based on a book by Tim Firth who was co-writer for Kinky Boots amongst others. The music and stage production is based on the 2003 film which is likened to the real life story. Like life in general, there are highs and lows, sadness, joys and a successful ending.
I arrived at the conveniently positioned car park opposite the theatre and was greeted by enthusiastic volunteer staff. A gentleman gave me an interesting history of the theatre and introduced me to the theatre duty manager.
The story, like I implied, is based on a true story. Annie’s husband John is diagnosed with leukaemia and prior to his death he grows quantities of ‘sunflowers’ which he hands out to all in the villagers hoping that when he dies they will continue growing the seeds as a reminder of him. His does die at an early age and Annie, together with her friend, Chris, both from the WI, decide to try and raise funds to replace the dilapidated and uncomfortable visitors’ lounge sofa in the hospital, with a new one in his name. Chris has the idea of publishing a nude calendar with discreet photographs as opposed to their normal annual calendar consisting of ‘views in the countryside’. They try and persuade the rest of the Women’s Institute in their village of ‘Knapely’ to join in with, of course, the usual reluctance. Members of the WI, fight against the idea with great scepticism and objection primarily against the lack of clothes aspect! However, finally ten of the members agree and all hope that they would be able to raise enough funds with the publication that will be photographed by an amateur photographer from the hospital.
The members of the calendar girls WI group are Annie (Alexandra Elliott) Chris ( Siobhan Ball) Cora (Debbie Longley-Brown), Celia (Liz Kavanagh Knott), Jessie (Jane Towers), Ruth (Tracey Holderness), Miss Wilson/Brenda Hulse (Mary Delahunty) Miss Wilson (Karen Hamilton), Marie (Karen Gordon), Lady Cravenshire (Monica Winfield). They were well assisted by the husband John (Andy Longley-Brown), Rod (Tony Whitmore), Denis (Steve Elliott), Colin (David Lovell), Lawrence (Joe Dickenson), Danny (James King), Jenny (India Lily Cooper) and Tommo (Tim Stokes).
Behind the scenes during a production , but at the forefront during rehearsals are the talented Director and Producer Keiran Whelan-Newby, assisted (literally) John Bale (Assistant Director), Felix SÜrbe (Musical Director) Tim Stokes (Assistant Director). These gentlemen were assisted by an excellent team all referred to in the informative and colourful programme.
I appreciate that mentioning an entire cast, crew and supportive people is a challenge and usually not attempted in a reviews. It is often usual only to mentions the lead characters. I simply cannot do that in this review. Every person in the cast and behind the scenes team played their parts superbly well. The cast were always in character and exactly how I would expect them to be. As I said to the group at the end of the show, this production was the best I have seen in all aspects of amateur theatre this year. I have always said that the difference between professional theatre and amateur is that: professionals rely on the theatre to earn a living. Amateurs are engaging with it for the love of the art. This group, in my humble opinion, are at the top of their amateur league and would have been accepted if they had placed this performance in a West End theatre.