While initially slow to start, Gary Barlow and Tim Firth’s musical beautifully draws the audience into the story and the lives of the calendar girls.

(c) Matt Crockett

Funny, genuinely touching and a whole lot of fun are just a few ways to describe this delightfully witty musical from Gary Barlow and Tim Firth that was warmly received by audiences at the New Victoria Theatre.

Based on the true story of a group of women part of the WI from Yorkshire who decided to help their friend Annie through grief following the loss of her husband John by raising money through a nude calendar, Calendar Girls is a thoughtful and considerate musical that respects the original characters and the story that it uses as its source material.

Thanks to the warmth and humour to be found in both the playfully naughty script and tender and funny music (with songs such as ‘My Russian Friend and I’ and ‘I Have Had A Little Work Done’ proving to be real highlights) by Tim Firth and Gary Barlow it feels like a real celebration of community spirit as well as friendship that is heartwarming to watch.

While initially the story feels a little bit slow to build and could use some tightening up – with the song ‘Yorkshire’ not feeling like quite the spectacular opening it could be – Matt Ryan’s affectionate production slowly but surely grows in confidence and charm as the bond between all of the characters are revealed. The production also features some well thought out scenes – not least when it comes to dealing with John’s death that is beautifully quiet or the hilariously playful way in which the shooting of the nude calendar is dealt with. The musical and the production itself feels like a true celebration of how to channel grief in a positive way as well as how important being part of a community is.

The performances from the cast are all brilliantly thoughtful and strong. In particular, Anna-Jane Casey as Annie touchingly highlights the poignancy of her character’s story with a heart wrenching rendition of ‘Very Slightly Almost’. She is well matched with Rebecca Storm’s Chris – bold, confident but with a heart of gold, it is a performance that shines from beginning to end. There was also stand out performances from Sara Crowe as the timid but helpful Ruth which uses her fantastic sense of comic timing to great effect, Fern Britton as the brisk Marie and Karen Dunbar as Cora. But everyone in the cast delivered lively and entertaining performances in their own unique way to great effect.

It is so wonderful to see a British musical of this kind that is filled with such understanding and respect for the original story while offering great laughs and entertainment at the same time. While there are moments of sadness, this is ultimately a feel-good and laugh-out-loud musical that has something for everyone in it.

By Emma Clarendon

Calendar Girls continues to play at the New Victoria Theatre until the 30th March.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

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