Calendar Girls – The Musical at Bristol Hippodrome and touring

THE real events that led Tim Firth and Juliette Towhidi to write the script for the highly acclaimed 2003 film Calendar Girls, later adapted by Tim Firth into an equally successful play, are dramatic enough in their own right, needing nothing added to capture the public imagination.

On the opening night at the Bristol Hippodrome of the tour of the musical version of the story, with music added by Take That’s Gary Barlow, there was as much, if not more, drama in the auditorium as there was on stage.

Up to half time Matt Ryan’s production was sailing along merrily enough, with interval conversation ranging from praise for Sarah Jane Buckley (Kathy Barnes in TV’s Hollyoaks) stylishly playing of the widowed Annie, and Rebecca Storm’s spirited presentation of her best friend Chris, instigator of the idea of creating a nude calendar in order to raise money to buy a settee for the waiting room of the local hospital in memory of Annie’s late husband John, to the question of “were the addition of teenagers to the story line, and using an open air backdrop of the Yorkshire Moors to all the scenes” a good ideas.

Gary Barlow’s music certainly made good use of the younger element in the cast, and with a mixture of biting remarks and lovely pathos the lyrics served the older WI members and the younger element in this new look at the story evenhandedly. However by expanding the story and adding 18 musical numbers, less room was left to create the characters. Experienced players like Lesley Joseph, Sue Davaney, and Lisa Maxwell, had the minimum of time and space to create the ex-school teacher older stateswoman Jessie, feisty piano playing Cora, and sharp edged Celia.

The younger group had even less ammunition to work with, which makes the definite mark left by by Isabel Caswell as the knowing, oldfor-her-age Jenny even more impressive.

That was the impression as we all sat down ready for Act 2. only to be told after some 15 minutes that because of a medical emergency in the balcony there would be a delay in starting the second half of the show. Showing the sort of stoicism that comes as almost second nature to a British audience, very few people left their seats even after a another announcement that there would be a further delay awaiting the arrival of an ambulance. By the time the clock was moving near to ten o’clock, almost an hour after the second half of the show should have got underway, the need to catch buses, trains or pick up lifts home had become a serious factor.

With great reluctance, and I am sure as much disappointment as the company and audience felt, the management putting the safety of the collapsed man in the balcony above all other considerations called a halt to proceedings, offering audience members a chance to catch up with a full performance of the show in one of the future performances until Saturday July 20th.

Is this musical version of the Calendar Girls story as funny and poignant as the film and play, how good are those unheard numbers waiting to be presented in the second half of the show? Difficult questions to answer, so perhaps it would be a good idea for those present on opening night to take the Hippodrome up on their offer and see the production again, this time from start to finish.


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