Review: Calendar Girls The Musical is a cheeky and heartfelt roller coaster 
Last updated Nov 8, 2023
Pic: Alex Harvey-Brown


Lauren Crisp is a book editor, writer and keen follower of arts and culture. Born and raised in Harrogate, Lauren recently moved back to North Yorkshire after a stint in London, where she regularly reviewed theatre – everything from big West End shows to small fringe productions. She is now eager to explore the culture on offer in and around her home town.  You can contact Lauren on [email protected]

It’s the Yorkshire tale we all know and love: the remarkable story of a group of ladies in a small Women’s Institute in the Dales, who, after the death of one member’s husband, and wanting to raise money for the hospital that cared for him, did what no WI had ever done before. They produced a nude calendar. Twenty-five years on, the women have raised an incredible £6 million for Blood Cancer UK.

The story was shared with the world in 2003 with the release of a major film, Calendar Girls, featuring Helen Mirren, Julie Walters and a slew of other big names. It was followed by a stage adaptation in 2008 with the same writer, Tim Firth, at its helm.

The newer musical production, now on tour across the country, is a fresh take entirely and a collaboration between Firth and long-term friend, Take That’s Gary Barlow. I was lucky enough to experience the result of this perfect partnership at Leeds Grand Theatre last night.

The two writers’ skills combine to create something totally magnificent. Barlow’s lyrics and melodies elevate the piece to a whole new level: it is as if it was always intended to have a soundtrack. And, to deliver the magic to the stage: an all-star cast of music, television and theatre talent, including Maureen Nolan of the Nolan Sisters and Lyn Paul from the New Seekers.

Eastenders’ Tanya Franks plays the newly widowed Annie beautifully; her rendition of Kilimanjaro, in which she mourns the everyday struggles of grief, is truly heart-breaking. Amy Robbins, of Coronation Street fame, is extraordinarily entertaining as Annie’s best friend, Chris.

Tanya Franks as Annie. Pic: Alex Harvey-Brown

And it really doesn’t end there: every single cast member performs with such life and understanding, their lyrics delivered with meaning and purpose. Each character has her moment, with her own challenge to overcome, from the process of ageing and worries over children, to cheating spouses and turning to the bottle.

I cried with laughter and with sadness; the whole production filled me with an unbridled joy that reminded me why I love theatre. Poignancy, comedy, bittersweet beauty, wrapped up so effortlessly like a present: it’s a rare thing, and a full standing ovation was the proof of the pudding.

As if that wasn’t enough of a roller coaster of emotions for one evening, the revelation that members of the famous WI branch were among the audience was the icing on the proverbial cake.

If you do anything this week, go and see the Calendar Girls doing their thing on stage, plum jam, bare bums, iced buns and all.

The final performance is on Saturday night.

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