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Calendar Girls - Waterside Theatre, Aylesbury

Calendar Girls the Musical is a heart-warming story of friendship and cakes with a brilliant score by Gary Barlow and Tim Firth that take the story to another level that would win any WI award!  It’s at Waterside Theatre this week and it’s a sure-fire hit.


Calendar Girls follows a small group of extraordinary women in a small Yorkshire Women’s Institute.  The opening number is called Yorkshire and is so rousing that you wish you were from Yorkshire.  It sets the scene for the WI and all the knitting, baking and crafting the WI organise each year.  They always make a calendar but this year they want to do something special as the WI celebrate 100 years and so Marie thinks that they could use their WI skills in the calendar to see the cakes, gardening and needlepoint that the ladies do so well.

 

Annie and John Clark have a relationship that most of us can only dream of.  They are still very much in love but sadly (spoiler alert) John has cancer and is fighting it but losing.  The waiting room at the hospital is almost their second home and has the most uncomfortable sofa ever.  When John loses his battle, it is Chris who comes up with an idea to raise money for a new one.  Chris is known for her crazy ideas and this one is her best crazy idea ever.  And her idea is to pose naked for a calendar.  Not just any calendar.  The centenary WI calendar.

 

Annie is played by Laurie Brett and her portrayal was brilliant.  We are taken on a roller coaster of emotions with Laurie as we see Annie go through her love and grief for Clarky, her bond of friendship with Chris and how she pushes herself to do something out of her comfort zone for her beloved husband’s memory.  Chris, played by Samantha Seager, is the fun, loud energy of the WI.  She only joined it to please her mother-in-law but actually does enjoy the friendships she has made there even if she can’t bake or sew.  Samantha is brilliant in the role and represents someone who doesn’t fit the traditional role of a WI member.  This is absolutely her strength as she challenges the old traditions by just being her vivacious self.

 

As the story unfolds and we get to know each member of the WI, it’s not as traditional as it first seems. Lyn Paul plays Jessie who used to be a teacher and the WI members sometimes still call her Miss.  She is proud of her achievements but hates being judged by her age.  I hear this loudly even though I am much younger than all the cast on the stage.  Lyn is a huge talent and outstanding in this role.  Celia is played by Helen Pearson.  Celia has had a little work done and is not shy about it.  I absolutely loved Helen’s song telling the WI this.  Ruth is played by Maureen Nolan who has a secret Russian friend.  It’s a Russian friend in a bottle and it’s not a friend she has introduced the WI friends to.  But things have a funny way of coming out anyway and they find out when she drunkenly comes to have her photo taken for the calendar.  Maureen is superb in the role.  The organiser of the WI is Marie played by Liz Carney.  Liz is fantastic in the role but Marie is a difficult woman to get on board with.  She isn’t supportive of change and the other members have to start meeting behind her back to organise the calendar as they know she would veto it.


I love this show so much and the talent on that stage is magnificent.  But I also want to say that I have so much respect for the cast in that they are brave enough to take their clothes off on stage each night.  It’s very tastefully done, but even so, it’s hugely inspiring and don’t think I could do this now or even when I was 20.  I also need to shout out to the set designers for one of the best sets I have ever seen on stage.  The perspective for this small community hall has so much detail, I loved the wooden beams and the neon lights bordering the hall making it pop.  


This is a heartfelt story about friendship.  Its a sensitive and emotional story that is sprinkled with humour. It's about support and being there for each other and we can all do with a bit of that in our lives.  

 

Calendar Girls is at Waterside Theatre, Aylesbury until 23 March 2024.

 



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