Calendar Girls, The Musical by Gary Barlow and Tim Firth is currently playing at The Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff. This production isn’t just about women stripping for a calendar, it’s about sisterhood, it’s about friendship, and it’s about togetherness.
I personally need to demolish the idea that these shows that include characters taking their clothes off are just about stripping. Like the Full Monty, both stories are heavily embedded with political, moral and general life issues. But with that in mind, this play is definitely targeted towards an older audience. This is obviously due to the fact that the characters involved are older women who are part of a Womens Institute and this show has very little movement throughout the whole show. In fact, I was one of the few youngest people in the audience but there were some things I can take away from this show.
To start with this show is set in Yorkshire with the staging reflecting Yorkshire countryside with hills in the background. This set didn’t change much throughout the show which did cause some confusion. Obviously, it is supposed to be set in the countryside but without the set changing, the cast put chairs on the stage to represent the Womens Institute meeting room so to the audience it looked as if these women were meeting in the middle of a field.
They could have done with a small build on the stage of a meeting room or something similar, as a lot of the story took place in this hall. I believe that this show would work perfectly in a more intimate venue such as the New Theatre. Personally, I have an issue when there are raised platforms on the stage in musicals as the audience are already looking up to the stage and so putting the cast even higher up is often unnecessary also the actually raised pillars are often left undecorated which becomes an eye-sore. All of this show took place on a raised stage and it was never really explained, in terms of the story, what the lower part of the stage was supposed to be.
Unfortunately it was very obvious to the audience that this was Calendars Girls opening night as many small things went wrong during this production. Firstly, towards the end of act one, there is a scene in which Ruth, played by Julia Hills, carries a huge box of scones to the spring fair. Many of the scones actually fell out of the box and onto the floor which meant the other cast members had to pick them up. This was a distraction from the plot which wasn’t particularly needed also in this same act in a scene the spotlight started, almost randomly racing across the top of the stage which again distracted the audience from the story. I think through we can accredit this to opening night nerves which is understandable and also they were only tiny errors.
This show was supposed to be and is a very relatable show. In my opinion, the whole premise of the show is to empower the audience by showing a group of normal everyday women who grow in confidence to create the calendar. With this is in mind, the play was designed in such a way to make this concept as obvious as possible. The cast was not meant to be fantastic singers or incredible dancers, there were very few staging or props and the dialogue was done in a type of conversational speech that people would recognise. For the audience, the cast was supposed to be just like them and if they can feel empowered so can they. This effect was only added to by the inclusion of a Danny, played by Danny Howker, who is a teenage boy. I, also as a teenage boy, found it really easy to relate to Danny, Especially in the scene in which he appears drunk. When everyone first drinks alcohol they do go overboard which is exactly what this character did. So not only were there characters that the older generation to relate to but also the younger generation. This worked perfectly for relatability but meant that some number were lacking. In Act Two there is a really funny song titled “I’ve Had a Little Work Done” which is sung by Celia, played by Lisa Maxwell, which is written as a typical musical number which should have been a big chorus number with a chorus line but it did not. I do understand why they didn’t include all this (to keep the relatability of the musical) but it meant this number fell a little short of what it seemed to want to do.
Despite all this when the entire company came together for songs such as “Yorkshire” and “Sunflowers of Yorkshire” they were amazing. Their voices complemented one another and the harmonies were incredible. It was just in some individual solos that the nerves could be seen. This supports the idea that the play is all about friendship. On our own, we may struggle but together we are stronger. This musical was really funny and made everyone feel good about them by specifically empowering the older women in the audience. In Act One the song “Who Wants a Silent Night?” sung by Marie, Judy Holt was really entertaining and fun. This song made the whole audience want to get up and dance. This was a continuous thing through the whole musical; the cast appeared to have a lot of fun on the stage which made it a lot more enjoyable to watch. A highlight of the entire musical was Jessie, played by Lesley Joseph and her song “What Age Expects” this was a relatable, heartfelt and at times comical song that Lesley performed perfectly.
In General, Calendar Girls was an uplifting musical that had the audience laughing for the majority of the songs. I, however, may have missed aspects of the show due to my age but there was defiantly some elements of the characters that I associated with.