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Calendar Girls The Musical. Grimsby Auditorium. 10 & 11 June 2022

Updated: Apr 8, 2023

Calendar Girls The Musical

Tim Firth & Gary Barlow

Silhouettes Musical Theatre Society

Grimsby Auditorium

10-11 June 2022

So many productions locally have been hit with bad luck lately and sad to say, Calendar Girls the Musical produced by Silhouettes is another to endure hard luck that disrupted their plans and their production. Beset by COVID during the rehearsal phase and the loss of a couple of cast members, illnesses of variying stripes have hammered this production. Nevertheless, the society has rallied together truly demonstrating that the show must go on. It is such a shame that bad luck can have a devastating effect, robbing those who have worked so hard of the chance to perform at the last minute. One such performer to suffer in this show was local favourite John Lane, who has had to withdraw at the very last minute and we wish him well and a speedy recovery. Manfully stepping up to the plate as an able replacement is the show's director, Ben McDonald. I witnessed Ben's first ever run at the role in the rehearsal this evening and want to tell him to "break a leg" as he sings and acts being a last minute understudy.

The opening vista of the musical is gorgeous as the Yorkshire countryside is unveiled in all its glory and the action of the play begins. As the vibrant and enthusiastic cast sing of the virtues of Yorkshire we are transported to the land of green, rolling hills and sometimes overcast skies. This is the world of Calendar Girls, not quite Hovis advert country but not far off in Tim Firth and Gary Barlow's first musical theatre collaboration. Under the musical direction of Liz Abe, the orchestra sound marvellous and provide a lively backing for the somewhat smaller cast than we are used to seeing with Silhouettes. This show is, indeed, a departure from the work traditionally associated with the group but is a welcome and bold step forward.

The story of Calendar Girls is now almost ubiquitous. Based on a true story, a group of women from a Yorkshire branch of the Women's Institute got together to pose for a naked calendar as a fund raiser to raise money for a sofa at the local hospital where one of the ladies' husband was treated for leukaemia, but sadly passed away regardless. Their bold and brash decision to part with the traditional methods of fund-raising was so successful it inspired a film starring the cream of British acting talent, this was followed by a stage version of the film as a straight play, and eventually as a musical in its own right. This production is partnered with St. Andrew's Hospice and is helping to raise much-needed funds and awareness of the support it provides locally.

In this production, we are greeted by married couple, Annie (Jane Johnson) and John (Ben Macdonald) at the outset. John, a popular and gentle soul with a passion for sunflowers is not well. His diagnosis is terminal and the trials and tribulations of coping are well portrayed here. Annie's friendship group is based around the WI and her best friend is Chris (Helen Riley). Both Johnson and Riley possess wonderful singing voices and Helen Riley in particular also gets the chance to show her feisty side as the troublemaker always just on the wrong side of proper behaviour. Her performance truly lifts the show with humour, passion and compassion. Jane Johnson plays Annie with reserve and a quietly raging dignity. They provide and excellent contrast to each other.

One of the strengths of this production is that it gives so many good roles to women and so many featured solos offer the chance for individuals to shine. Cora, the Vicar's rebellious daughter (Debbie Robbins) and mother to rogue Tommo (George Kavanagh) gets things going with her solo Who Wants A Silent Night? - a lively and mischievous number set at Christmas. Celia (Jackie Middleton) excels when performing So I've Had a Little Work Done and really sells the number. Ruth's tragic ode to vodka, My Russian Friend and I is a lovely reflective song performed by Barbara Ingham and What Age Expects performed by Patience Scott as Jessie, is a wonderful rage against societal expectations. I especially loved Kilimanjaro, a bittersweet song about a desire to see the world being thwarted before our very eyes, sung by Annie was extremely moving and Sunflowers by Chris really showed strength and power vocally.

The men of the company are something of a second fiddle to the women in this show, which makes a pleasant change. But powerful vocal and dramatic support is offered by Ben McDonald, Michael Parker, Andrew Bailey and Simon Hewson. The young members of the cast are excellent in their roles. Poppy India is exceptionally animated as Jenny, the boarding school reject rebelling against her mother Marie (played to perfection by Tracey Gallagher). George Kavanagh, as Tommo, is clearly relishing the chance to perform as the schoolboy hoping to be groomed by an older woman and Joshua Corfield is extremely convincing and confident in the role of Danny, son of Chris and Rod.

Cameos from Jenny Leak and Tammy Coates at the Miss Wilsons (Coffee and Tea respectively) are amusing and their presence is noted throughout. Susan Wheatley-Solley is an elegant member of the Upper Classes as Lady Cravenshire with a cut-glass voice that is desperately incongruous among the Yorkie twang of the cast. Other roles are played by Julie Channon, Lewis Bigham, Cloe Parrish, Lucy Howes, Jade Hebdon and Pat Shuttleworth. Chloe Parrish also acted as choreographer, and on the night I saw the rehearsal covered for Jenny vocally due to illness - clearly a talented young woman.

Staging a new musical of this nature is a challenge and I hope that the audiences will follow Silhouettes and support this show. They have worked so hard to get it ready, and have been so unlucky to be hit with so many catastrophes, as they prepare to share the work with Grimsby and surrounding area. I wish them the very best of luck for the run. They deserve it.

Andy Evans 10 June 2022

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