Calendar Girls The Musical

Date 18th November 2022
Society Richmond Operatic Society
Venue The Georgian Theatre Royal
Type of Production Musical
Director Lara Vinsen
Musical Director Kay Broomhead
Producer Suanne Hutchins

Report

Author: John Holliday

It was an absolute pleasure to receive a warm welcome at The Georgian Theatre Royal for Richmond Operatic Society’s latest performance, Calendar Girls The Musical and it was brilliant to see a fully packed house with audiences queuing outside eager to see this relatively new musical written by Tim Frith and Gary Barlow.

Seeing a show about the Dales performed in the Dales had certainly generated a lot of excitement and having seen this show on a larger stage I was keen to see how ROS would utilize the compact Georgian stage.

Director Lara Vinsen and her production team did a fantastic job of bringing the stage to life, clever raised staging at the back covered with fake grass, the essential rickety piano at the front of arched columns setting the village hall and the wings packed with large props (it must have been an almighty squeeze backstage).

This was a great setting and created a perfect backdrop for the opening number Yorkshire where we would meet all the main characters and a sneaky insight into them and their lives.

Whilst we think about Calendar Girls about a group of WI members, rallying around a friend to rebel and create a nude calendar, there is so much more to the story and these fantastic women and the men in their lives.

The calendar is created to remember John Clarke who passed away after a long battle with Cancer, John was excellently played by Gary Winn who created the perfect balance of cheek, charm and later sadness as his character slowly deteriorated and succumbed to the “bastard” of a disease. Gary created the perfect mixture of humor and empathy in the role – and the audience fell silent during Time Passing.

The other husbands in the show were played really well by Mike Stephenson, Charlie Grumley and Graeme Mulvey. They all had key roles to play, in particular Graeme in the role of Rod, husband of Chris, who had his hands full with an energetic and at times bonkers wife and a son learning to find himself in his later teen years. Graeme was the perfect foil for Julie Winn in the part of Chirs but he more than held his own working together to create a very honest family dynamic. It was a very strong and confident performance.

The great moment for the husbands came in the opening of Act Two as they all gave an insight to their married lives as they reflected on their wives baring all for the Calendar, this opening number was very compassionate and well told.

Every calendar needs a photographer and these ladies had Lawrence played by Adam Collins, not a huge role however Adam excelled showing a great soft side with John as his nurse and the naïve and often awkward side to him as he prepares to photograph the ladies, not sure who was more nervous him or them!

Behind the main story line of the WI and the calendar you also have a lot of family issues brewing including the members children. In her 1st show for the society Isla Henderson was brilliant as Jenny, rebelling against her strict and pompous mother she showed a true sass to her character with an abundance of eye roles and strutted about the stage like a true moody teenager. It was nice to see a change in her in Act Two as she joins the WI and Isla showed off her stunning vocal ability in the duet, Protect me Less with Danny, played by Gabriel Wilkinson.

Gabriel, also in his 1st show with ROS, again had a lovely voice and his acting skills were a joy to watch as he switched from awkward potential head boy and self-confessed Virgin, down a path of rebelling against his mother to showing a much softer side later. His double act with friend Tommo was hysterical as they created the two randy teenagers, and Brodey Laundon in the role of Tommo gave us his best performance to date. Showing a good vocal talent he also gave us a great visual acting display with brilliant one-liners and showed good natural comic timing.

Of course, what this show is all about is predominantly about is the W.I and ROS gave us a wonderful mixture of characters in this group. Although in smaller roles Cathy Wolfe and Rhoda Fraser (her usual flamboyant self) played a number of smaller roles but packed area punch with great delivery.

Sam Fitzsimmons and Amy Fudali played Miss Tea and Miss Coffee, aptly named as these were the only lines they uttered although the delivery and timing was perfect and they certainly gave us an extra “cheeky” side to their characters in Act Two!

Leading the group was Marie played by Helen Cain, who portrayed a very stiff upper-lipped and bossy leader adamant on maintaining a good image for the group at risk of alienating herself. Helen was perfectly cast never once dropping character.

The show would not be the same without the other 4 ladies who eventually bare all for the calendar. Janet Singleton perfectly displayed the shy and nervous Ruth, hiding a lot of her personal struggles until her Russian Friends encourage her to break free of her shyness and indeed her husband. Janet displayed the quiet and intimidated character well and gave us a good transformation into a more confident and transformed (albeit slightly drunk) single lady.

Liz McDougal took on the role of knitting mad Jessie, the eldest of the group and excelled in the role. Giving a truly confident performance, we were treated to great facial expressions, a wonderful stage presence and a hilarious sol number in “What Age Expects”. I have seen Liz in a number of shows, and she is always a joy to watch, this was no exception.

Nicola Stephenson gave us a lovely performance in the role of Celia, a strong and confident character, whilst under the shadow of her husband and his golf club chums. Nicola owned the stage in her scenes and her camaraderie with Tanya Robinson in the role of Cora was simply fantastic.

This is Tanya’s 1st major role with ROS and it is about time, she had wonderful stage presence, leading a fabulous alternative Christmas medley in “Who wants a Silent Night”, her one-liners were epic and she bounced off the other characters with ease.

What everyone needs when you are going through a tough time is a best friend and in Chris, Annie (John’s wife) had one of the best. Played by Julie Winn we had a strong, bold, and extremely loyal friend. Leading the idea to come up with the calendar Chris rallies around the group and it her speech at the conference that allows the calendar to go ahead. As Chris, Julie gave us a great acting display, switching her character from the cheeky over the top troublemaker to the vulnerable and self-conscious mother and wife at ease. This was a lovely performance and her partnership with Jo Wilkinson as Annie wasn’t just believable it was heartwarming.

Jo Wilkinson returned to ROS after several years and it was a welcome return as she blossomed in this role, giving us a strong performance and character, clearly used as a shield to hide the pain and emotions she is going through. As John’s rock she naturally breaks at his passing, and in the number Kilimanjaro we felt every bit of emotion in this performance, well done Jo.

Of course, the ultimate finale of the show is the calendar making, and it certainly did not disappoint. Every one of the ladies found the inner courage and each photo scene was hysterical to watch with great humor used to hide their nerves as they had their moment.

This show is ultimately about friendship and sisterhood and ROS carried this off brilliantly. The production team, an all-female crew, Alex and Suanne managed the set changes with ease and as our leading ladies finally bared all the production crew ensured everything was in place to (just about) hide a bit of modesty.

As the final number, For One Night Only played; wonderfully led by MD Kay Broomhead and her band of Brett, Jonathan and James, we truly felt we had witnessed a great friendship being created on stage. The smile on the casts faces said it all and the rapturous applause from the audience confirmed it. This had been a lovely and very heart warming performance. 

Thank you again ROS and I look forward to seeing you next year to join in with your Centenary celebrations