Calendar Girls – The Musical – Bord Gais Energy Theatre – Review by Fran Winston
Bord Gais Energy Theatre, Grand Canal Square, Docklands, Dublin 2.
The 2003 true life drama Calendar Girls was one of the biggest movies of that year thanks in no small part to the sheer emotional roller coaster it took the viewer on. It told the story of a group of WI (Women’s Institute) members from Yorkshire who produced a nude calendar in 1999 to raise money for leukaemia research after the death of one of the women’s husbands. Following its success writer Tim Firth adapted it into an equally successful stage play. However, it never seemed obvious subject matter for a musical. That is until Firth’s long-time friend Gary Barlow entered the picture and lo and behold the story yet again has fresh life breathed into it in a new medium.
This touring production sees some of the biggest personalities in British theatre take to the stage – Fern Britton, Anna-Jane Casey, Sara Crowe, Karen Dunbarr, Ruth Madoc, Denise Welch and honorary Irishwoman Rebecca Storm play the eponymous girls here. Despite the at times dark and tragic subject matter it becomes clear from the off that the transition to musical hasn’t dampened the humour or heart that was so evident in both the real life women and the film.
The opening song is an ode to Yorkshire that reprises throughout the show and from the off each woman is given their chance to establish their character. Although Barlow didn’t write the songs with these specific actresses in mind there are one or two tracks that almost feel like they were composed specifically for the performer! This is a testament to both the music and the talent on offer. You will definitely find yourself humming at least one or two of them on your way home.
The staging is kept simple with a Yorkshire landscape as our backdrop and various props such as chairs or lights added as needed to transform it into a WI meeting hall or someone’s living room. It is actually refreshing to see such simple staging in a musical given the extremely lavish sets employed by so many which often serve to dazzle at the expense of the performance.
My one technical criticism would be that the lighting seemed a bit “off” during the first act the night I was there. At times the stage seemed somewhat dull despite action taking place and the lighting focus didn’t always appear to be on the performer who was engaging at that point. However, it is unlikely many others noticed and it didn’t detract from the overall enjoyment.
If you are familiar with the film you will be aware that the calendar shoot happens quite early on and the rest of the film follows the women on the roller coaster that followed. Here, however, the shoot is the highlight of the show happening near the end of the final act. Many of the lines from the film are given another outing (“we’re going to need considerably bigger buns”) and the staging is extremely clever with all the women truly going for it – much to the audiences delight. Yes, the ladies do indeed bare all – but in a seaside postcard kind of way. The biggest cheer in this instance was reserved for Rebecca Storm. Understandable since the Irish have adopted her as one of their own but she also gives a fantastic performance as Chris who instigates the initial idea. Her comic timing is spot on.
Mind you all of the cast are wonderful. Ruth Madoc in particular will have your sides splitting. Her delivery of one liners is astonishing and she manages to turn seemingly innocuous lines into something hilarious.
This isn’t ground-breaking nor is it trying to be. Ultimately it is designed to leave your heart warmed and smile on your face. Judging by the audience reaction the night I attended it ticks all those boxes. It is moving, poignant and extremely funny. If you want a dose of the warm and fuzzies during this cold snap you should definitely check this out.
Until February 22nd, 7.30pm nightly with matiness at 2.30pm on Wednesdays.
Tickets from €21. Group offers €5 discount for Group 10+, Access, OAP, Carer, Student, Child Mon-Thurs only.