CALENDAR GIRLS – the Musical

Date 26th February 2022
Society Portrush Music Society
Venue Magherabuoy House Hotel. Portrush.
Type of Production Musical
Director Kerry Kane , assisted by John McDowell & Aidan Hughes
Musical Director Terry Cloughley
Choreographer Elaine Macauley & Fiona Flynn

Report

Author: Sheelagh Hobart

The music for this show, based on a true story, is written by Gary Barlow with the book by his friend Tim Firth. Having learnt that their usual venue was unavailable, PMS committee cancelled “Shrek” (which was already well into rehearsals) and took the brave decision to apply for the rights to stage the Irish Amateur Premiere of “Calendar Girls – the Musical”. A large hotel ballroom was transformed into an excellent performance space seating 300, with a stage built at one end for the 30 strong cast. The permanent set in shades of green easily adapted to indoor and outdoor scenes with simple and appropriate props. A good square grid was already in the room so Lighting was straightforward and adequate and, with about half the cast wearing body mics, sound was excellent. As the period was ‘present day’, costumes and hairstyles were self-arranged! The finale with a great variety of black dresses with single sunflower corsage was particularly effective,

The Full Company opened with ‘Yorkshire’ – “where all the fields are green and the days don’t seem to change”, introducing the ambience of the piece and a variety of Yorkshire accents (mostly very convincing!) Ensemble and small roles were fully engaged in the action and their volume and diction in song was excellent. There are not so many male roles in Calendar Girls but each actor brought individual characterisation to their part. Aidan Hughes took the difficult role of dying husband John with some humour and not too much sentimentality. Tim Brown played Florist Rod, who supported his wife Chris with good Yorkshire sense and down to earth humour – a very likeable character. Oliver Keys perfectly portrayed their sensible, hard -working and slightly awkward son Danny – who was tempted by a free-spirited girl and led astray! His relationship with mischievous schoolfriend Tommo was completely believable. Played equally well by Harry Bucukoglu’s understudy Patrick Foxwell, Tommo and Danny were a good foil for each other. Peter Olphert played Lawrence, the hospital porter cum talented amateur photographer who befriended John in his final days. In spite of a very bad wig(!) Peter played a nervous but credible man among many very underdressed women! Harry Stinson and Donal Macauley were Colin and Denis – adding character as long suffering husbands of WI ladies!

The ladies of the WI were all very well cast.  Brenda Tosh played Chairperson Marie - rather aloof and overbearing but devoted to the WI and its traditions. She tried to educate her daughter Jenny (Gemma Campbell) in the values of the WI – she turned out to be the ‘naughty girl’ who led Danny astray! Gemma was every inch the rebellious teenage schoolgirl! The “Wilson” ladies, Sandra Sweetman, Karen Todd and Addis Blair, made a number of surprise appearances from the kitchen hatch – the most surprising being their nude appearance (upper body at least!) Good for them! The main protagonists were Ruth, Celia, Jessie, Cora, Annie and Chris. As Ruth, the put-upon wife of a philandering husband, Fiona Flynn was very convincing – always making herself useful to the WI but unsure and sensitive in the outside world. Fiona had a great number to sing (My Russian Friend) and performed it well. I think the whole audience was with her when she “drank” enough confidence to appear as Miss November for the calendar! As Celia, Sandra McElhinney had no problem with confidence – proud of the fact that she had “had a little work done”! Sandra was perfect for that role (no offence Sandra!) As retired schoolteacher Jessie, Margaret Snape (new to the PMS team from Operatic groups in England) and her knitting, slotted easily into the role and showed bags of character. She had the good fortune to be the singer of “What Age Expects” (which I intend to adopt as my theme song!) Playing Cora, Joanne Palmer teased plenty of comedy from the role of music teacher and gave a well rounded performance with great on stage rapport.

It's hard to separate Emma Thorpe and Elaine Macauley as best friends Chris and Annie. Each displaying differing character traits, their closeness was unmistakable. As Annie, Elaine was the gentler - supporting a dying husband and then dealing with the grief. As Chris, Emma was more “in your face” but totally supportive of her friend. Elaine was engaging and honest while Emma was vigorous and assured with good comic timing. Both sang their solos and group numbers with great feeling.

As each month of the calendar was revealed in artistic manner the audience broke into spontaneous applause in recognition of their courageous performance. As the heart-warming show came to an end, each and every one deserved the standing ovation given by the audience. Requiring little choreography in its usual dance form, movement by the cast around the small stage was natural and appropriate. The small combo under the baton of Terry Cloughley was always sympathetic to singers and presented the unfamiliar music of Gary Barlow to best effect. I could tell that this musical was close to the Director’s heart. Kerry was challenged by the story of female friendship and empowerment and enabled the cast to immerse in an uplifting and joyful production. 

My My thanks to everyone involved for a moving and uplifting afternoon.