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Calendar Girls, Theatre Royal review: A heartwarming show with plenty of cheek

PUBLISHED: 12:14 06 February 2019 | UPDATED: 13:23 06 February 2019

L-R Denise Welch, Rebecca Storm, Karen Dunbar, Fern Britton, Sara Crowe, Anna-Jane Casey, Ruth Madoc Credit: John Swannell

L-R Denise Welch, Rebecca Storm, Karen Dunbar, Fern Britton, Sara Crowe, Anna-Jane Casey, Ruth Madoc Credit: John Swannell

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Calendar Girls began its run at the Theatre Royal on Tuesday night and although the play has been to the city before, Tim Firth and Gary Barlow have now turned it into a musical.

Front Tim Firth, Gary Barlow, back Rebecca Storm, Fern Britton, Sara Crowe, Denise Welch, Ruth Madoc, Karen Dunbar, Anna-Jane Casey Credit: John SwannellFront Tim Firth, Gary Barlow, back Rebecca Storm, Fern Britton, Sara Crowe, Denise Welch, Ruth Madoc, Karen Dunbar, Anna-Jane Casey Credit: John Swannell

Calendar Girls is based on a true story of a group of friends from the Women’s Institute in a sleepy Yorkshire village who created a nude charity calendar after one of their husband’s died of leukaemia.

But this isn’t a story about cancer, it is a celebration of life, friendship and the power of women when they get together – which is an important message now more than ever.

Although the star-studded cast boasts big names including former This Morning presenter Fern Britton, Loose Women Denise Welch and Four Weddings and a Funeral’s Sara Crowe, this is very much an ensemble piece.

The show begins with a backdrop of the rolling Yorkshire hills, which is kept throughout the show, and sees Colin, who is later diagnosed with leukaemia, his wife Annie and their friends enjoying life in the countryside.

The set is minimalist, which makes sure the focus is on the actors, and through props is transformed from the hospital waiting room to the bustling WI meeting room to a Mayday fete.

In one of the early scenes the group all meet for a Women’s Institute meeting and it is refreshing to see women of all shapes and sizes that everyone in the audience can relate to.

Denise Welch is brilliant as an exaggerated version of herself as the flirty and outspoken Celia, who is fed up of being judged by members of her husband’s golf club, and Fern Britton is a revelation as Marie – the uptight chair of the Knapely WI.

Fern Britton in Calendar Girls Credit: John SwannellFern Britton in Calendar Girls Credit: John Swannell

A special mention must also go to Pauline Daniels who has seamlessly stepped into the role of Jessie and played the part with wonderful eccentricity after Ruth Madoc broke her hip in a fall last week.

After Colin is diagnosed with the disease his physical decline is shown on stage with the transition from a walking stick to wheelchair between scenes but he remains positive throughout his treatment.

READ MORE: 7 cheap and free things to do in Norfolk this week - from drag act to am-dram

When he dies, Annie’s best mate Chris, played by Rebecca Storm, has her “first good idea” as she suggests they create a nude calendar to raise money for a new sofa in the hospital he was treated in.

At first, the group don’t seem keen on the idea and it is great to see the different dynamics in the group, including the prudish and bumbling Ruth (Crowe), Marie who doesn’t want to ruin the reputation of her beloved WI and single mum Cora (Karen Dunbar), who doesn’t want to embarrass her father who is the vicar.

A sub-plot of the show is amongst the younger characters and Chris’ son Danny as he tries to impress Marie’s daughter Jenny and his reaction when he finds out his mum is doing a nude calendar is priceless.

You can tell throughout the show that the songs are written by Gary Barlow and the triumphant Dare wouldn’t be out of place on a Take That album.

Other memorable songs include the defiant What Age Expects sung by Jessie when the group assume she won’t take part in the calendar and hilarious So I’ve Had A Bit of Work Done by Celia.

L-R Rebecca Storm, Denise Welch, Anna-Jane Casey, Fern Britton, Karen Dunbar, Sara Crowe, Ruth Madoc Credit: Matt CrockettL-R Rebecca Storm, Denise Welch, Anna-Jane Casey, Fern Britton, Karen Dunbar, Sara Crowe, Ruth Madoc Credit: Matt Crockett

But the highlight of the show comes when the group finally agree to the calendar and the audience were in tears of laughter as the women precariously posed behind cake stands and Ruth, after necking a few vodkas, arrives for the shoot and poses naked on a table of fruit.

This scene also reveals how much this is a show of trust as one slip of the hand or cake in the wrong place could have left their fellow cast member revealing their full birthday suit.

Of course there was a few flashes of bare bums and boobs, which got huge claps from the audience, and they received a standing ovation at the end of the show as they appeared amongst the sunflowers for their curtain call.

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