For many, the story line, based also on true events, is familiar: a group of Yorkshire ladies attending the local Women’s Institute meet and share their everyday, contented lives each week at the local hall for WI meetings. When one of the women’s husbands dies tragically of cancer, her friend boldly comes up with a fundraising idea; to create a nude calendar to raise money in his name.
The play’s most profound premise is that ordinary women (men, children, people) can club together to do extraordinary things. The show captures this in its rip-roaring chorus numbers with beautifully arranged harmonies and tunes that certainly have the Barlow stamp on them, but also the quieter moments which brim with raw emotion. It is one of those stories where the tear trickling down your cheek has to be quickly swept away to make way for an unrestrained laugh at the sharp, observant script that captures the cheerful tragedies of everyday life and the earthy, unpretentious honesty in Yorkshire humour without being hammy or charicature-esque. Considering the homage to Yorkshire doesn’t just stop at the dedicated musical number which, bets on is surely set to become a sort of anthem, the play’s homage to the county will be interesting to watch on a more national stage, where audiences may not have the same investment in a story so knitted into its surroundings. But the night we attend is obviously held in arguably Yorkshire’s capital city- Leeds - and the reception is certainly warm and collective.
The natural chemistry between the women, especially lead roles Annie and Chris played respectively by Joanna Riding and Claire Moore is warm, funny and so familiar; the jests and jibes and harsh words of reality but ultimately the unrelenting rock of loyalty.
As if that wasn’t fabulous on its own merit, the final curtain brought along honoured guests Tim Firth and Gary Barlow to perform their own rendition of opening song ‘Yorkshire’ which briefly felt alarmingly like a Take That concert, crowd already on their feet from the standing ovation. Barlow didn’t quite manage to steal the show (it was close) as we were also joined by the original Calendar Girls, who reminded us all of the strength of friendship and determination.
This is a show that celebrates women in all their real and fabulous glory, including the cheeky addition of live and ‘tasteful, artistic!’ nudity that set off a house full of whoops and cheers, egging on the ladies in the most body-positive way. On till the 12th of December, this is a must see!