Calendar Girls review: Musical stirs the emotions as it hits Northampton stage

The cast in mischievous form
The cast in mischievous form

Emily-Jane Clark reviews Calendar GirlsThe Musical at the Royal & Derngate, Northampton

I never thought I would ever consider joining my local Woman’s Institute but after watching Calendar Girls The Musical, I am thinking of doing just that.

Not because I want to start making jam, baking cakes or posing naked with currant buns, but the idea of a group of females from all ages and classes coming together to learn new skills and drink tea (or autumn punch!) looked pretty appealing.

Calendar Girls The Musical is inspired by the true story of a group of ladies, who decide to appear naked for a WI calendar in order to raise funds to buy a settee for their local hospital, in memory of one of their husbands.

I hadn’t seen the original film so I had no idea I was in for such an emotional rollercoaster. I spent most of the show with a lump in my throat as first we lose the lovable Jon Clarke to cancer, then we watch his wife Annie, deal with the grief of losing him with the help of her WI friends.

Fortunately, it was just as funny as it was sad, as the entire cast oozed comic talent. The ladies playing the WI group were all brilliant character actors. There was single mum Cora, played by the mega talented Sue Devaney, Ruth Madoc as Jess, Rebecca Storm as Chris, Judy Holt as Marie and my personal favourite, Julia Hills as mousy secret vodka drinker, Ruth. Sarah Jane Buckley, who was amazing as widow Annie, provided the heart of the show and had the audience in tears as she sang about losing her soul mate, Jon.

The teenage sons of Chris and Cora, Tommo (Tyler Dobbs) and Danny (Danny Howker), were some of my favourite characters in the show. Their portrayal of young Yorkshire lads trying (and failing) to be cool was hilarious and their comedy timing was perfect.

Despite the pain of trying not to weep uncontrollably into my ice cream for almost two hours, I left the theatre with a smile on my face. The show’s message of ‘being a sunflower’ – facing towards the sun and being proud, not hiding away in the shadows - was inspiring and uplifting. This was all summed up perfectly in Jess’s song about how age creeps up on you as you always feel the same on the inside. This provided my favourite quote of evening which went something like ‘age is just a flesh wound, not a wound of the heart’.

With amazing songs, a top cast and a set that transported you straight to the Yorkshire dales, I would highly recommend going to see Calendar Girls The Musical – just take tissues!

* Calendar Girls The Musical is on at the Derngate Theatre until Saturday, October 12. Visit royalandderngate.co.uk to book.