One might not expect a full house on a Tuesday evening, but the New Wimbledon Theatre was packed on the opening night of Calendar Girls’ short run at a venue famed for putting on successful musicals not too far from central London, but not at West End prices. The standing ovation which the audience gave at the end demonstrated, better than any glowing review, that this show touches the heart. It also touches a chord. The songs are great, with some very clever lyrics, and well sung by the cast, who sure know how to harmonize.
Like many recent musicals, this one has been adapted for the stage from an earlier movie, which itself was based on a true, and newsworthy, story. The unprecedented enterprise by a group of ladies from the Women’s Institute to produce a “Christmas calendar” for 1999, for a worthy charitable cause, and featuring themselves in the nude, caused quite a sensation. This was not the knitting and jam-making with which the W.I. had previously been associated. A lot of calendars were sold.
One wonders whether, in these more puritanical times, the ladies would receive such unqualified approbation. But the audience here had no such doubts about the matter. They were delighted with the heart-warming story of how a Yorkshire village rallies round when a much-loved member of the community dies of cancer, and they resolve, by way of commemoration, to make a useful contribution to the local hospital which treated him. One somewhat rebellious member of the Women’s Institute suggests a bold scheme to raise the money, and has a hard job persuading her colleagues to go along with the idea. How the various ladies overcome their inhibitions, and how their husbands and teenage children react, provide the material for a lorra lorra rollicking laughs, but also some poignant reflections on marriage, child-rearing, and growing old.
The entire cast are excellent, and one must not overlook the musicians. The small band is out of sight, but provides the essential backing to the very tuneful songs. The climax of the show is the photo-shoot, at which each lady finally disrobes, with much encouragement from the audience – climactic indeed, and good clean fun!
- By Gary Barlow & Tim Firth
- Directed by Matt Ryan
- Produced by David Pugh & Dafydd Rogers and The Shubert Organisation
- Cast includes : Rebecca Storm, Sarah Jane Buckley
- Venue: The New Wimbledon Theatre, London
- Until: Saturday 5th October 2019
- Time : 7.30 p.m. Running time : 2½ hours (+ 15-minute interval)