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Calendar Girls - Norwich Theatre Royal (02.04.2024)

Calendar Girls centres around the lives and friendships of members of the Knapely Women's Institute. When the husband of one of its members dies from cancer, they decide to raise funds to purchase a comfy sofa for the relatives’ room at the hospital where the husband was treated. That idea is to sell a calendar featuring photographs of members posing nude while carrying out traditional WI activities. This particular adaptation of the story follows the ladies as they build up to the pivotal photoshoot.

Now, it’s probably not ideal for a reviewer to go into a theatre with a pre-conception of how they might feel about a production, perhaps even less so to admit it. However, being a fan of the 2003 Calendar Girls film, and the play that followed a few years later, I have to confess that I didn’t see the need for it to be made into a musical. And so I attended this production hoping to have my mind changed. Did it achieve that?

The answer is not really. Thankfully this rendering of the story, with its music and lyrics by original screenwriter Tim Firth, and Gary Barlow of Take That fame, does manage to retain the charm, humour, and poignancy that made the film and stage versions such big hits.

But, to me, the drawback of this musical version is that songs have been crowbarred into what was a previously well-formed script at the expense of the narrative. This leaves the storyline a little sparse and somewhat linear as a result.

While the arrangements were excellent, the songs themselves weren't particularly memorable. They weren't helped by almost nothing in the way of choreography, meaning that every musical number was largely static and a bit underwhelming.

That's not to say that I didn't enjoy it - it would take the most curmudgeonly of souls to not have their heart warmed by the story and to laugh along with the girls as they gee each other up for their photos.

The performances were all excellent with Laurie Brett and Samantha Seager as best friends Annie and Chris the pick of the bunch. Both displayed accomplished vocal quality alongside their obvious abilities as actors, helping to beautifully portray some of the story's most tender and emotional moments.

They were aided by an excellent supporting cast, with Lyn Paul offering a real highlight with her song What Age Expects and Colin R Campbell as husband John providing gallows humour as he gradually deteriorates.

The set design was great too, with much of the action taking place in a village hall, but this was rather inventively created with one of the hall's four walls taken out to allow us as the audience to look in. The set up for the scenes at the hospital was very simple but effective too.

Overall, there is much to enjoy in this production, especially if you go in without any bias towards other versions of the story, and makes this worth a watch.

Calendar Girls continues at Norwich Theatre Royal until 6 April.


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