by Gary Barlow & Tim Firth
4 Stars ****
The Phoenix Theatre, 110 Charing Cross Road, London WC 2H 0JP booking to 15 July 2017.
Mon – Sat 7.30pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.30 pm.
Runs 2hr 35 mins One interval.
TICKETS: 0844 871 7629.
Review: William Russell 22 February.
Sumptuous Yorkshire puddings on display
This musical comedy based on the film Calendar Girls and the play of the same name written by Tim Firth looked on paper like a case of flogging a dead horse, although both were successful and the latter is now much loved by amateur dramatic companies.
The show is about the Yorkshire Women’s Institute ladies who decided to raise money for cancer research after one of their husbands died from cancer and opted to do so not by holding a raffle but – as was modish in the 1990s – creating a nude calendar. They would be photographed with crucial parts of their anatomy concealed by cream buns, flowers and other things that ladies who enjoy jam and Jerusalem are associated with.
The calendar was a runaway success. The chances are despite its dreadful title, because girls are the last thing one sees, the ladies all being mature to say the least, deserves to be the same, The music by Barlow and Firth is jolly, if unremarkable, but the script has some crisp jokes, there is a nice sub plot about randy teenagers which elicits whoops of recognition from the matriarchs in the audience, while the actresses playing the assorted ladies are troupers to their fingertips.
When they unburden themselves ever so discreetly of their clothes for the photo shoot – the climax to act two, unlike play and film where it happened midway – an awful lot of spare tires and large buttocks spill out. There is nothing erotic about the goings on. Joanna Riding leads the cast as Annie, whose husband has died, and gets splendid support from Debbie Chazen, Sophie Louise Dann, Claire Moore and Michele Dotrice as other ladies who bare. They can all sing, get a passable aria to belt out with aplomb, being old pros to the nth degree. The set by Robert Jones consisting of lots of kitchen cabinets in front of Yorkshire dales under rather lurid skies is very pretty to look at, and the three teenagers bolshie daughter, virgin swot son and son convinced he has found a Mrs Robinson – are a match for the elders.
It is not a great show, but it works beautifully. Firth has directed it with patent efficiency. The comedian Dick Emery’s catch phrase when playing Mandy, his drag act character, after delivering a playful slap on the back was “ You are awful but I like you.”
As good a verdict on the show as I can think of and, what is more the ladies on stage, with the exception of a slender Ms Riding, are all Mandies.
Ruth: Debbie Chazin.
Celia: Sophie-Louise Dann.
Jessie: Michele Dotrice.
Cora: Claire Machin.
Marie: Marian McLoughlin.
Chris: Claire Moore.
Annie: Joanna Riding.
Tommo: Josh Benson.
Rod: Joe Caffrey.
Dennis: Jeremy Clyde.
Doctor: John Davitt.
Brenda: Soo Drouet.
John: James Gaddas.
Miss Wilson: Jenny Gayner.
Lawrence: Steve Giles.
Danny: Ben Hunter.
Colin: Maxwell Hutcheon.
Jenny: Chloe May Jackson.
Miss Wilson: Shirley Jameson.
Lady Cravenshire: Judith Street.
Swing: Rebecca Louis.
Ensemble: Victoria Blackburn; Frazer Hadfield; Jane Lambert.
Director: Tim Firth.
Musical Director: Richard Beadle.
Set & Costumes: Robert Jones.
Musical Staging: Lizzi Gee.
Comedy Staging: Jos Houben.
Lighting Design: Tim Lutkin.
Sound Design: Terry Jardine & Nick Lidster.
Projection Design: Alex Uragallo.
Assistant Director: Jack Ryder.