Calendar Girls – Lichfield Operatic Society ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Calendar Girls – Lichfield Operatic Society

Lichfield Garrick

Tuesday 2nd July 2024 – Opening Night

By Nigel Gambles

Disclaimer: Gifted tickets in exchange for an honest review.

In the Yorkshire village of Knapely live an extraordinary group of women. Wives, mothers, members of the local WI…not so extraordinary you might say. But every woman has a story to tell…right?

Calendar Girls written by Tim Firth, with music and lyrics by Gary Barlow gives a heart-warming and realistic glimpse into the true-life ladies who, in order to raise money for a hospital waiting room couch, raised enough money for an entire wing by posing naked for a calendar. Yes – you heard right! The ladies of the WI, those jam makers, and cake bakers, and knitters get their baps and bums out and it is cracking!

The curtains open on what I can only describe as a friendly set with rolling green hills, a blue sky and the sun blaring down on the pastoral scene – this is Yorkshire!. Some of the most poignant moments are played out centre stage with a stunning twilight lighting, using simple spot for emphasis. Coupled together, with the the stage! It is a specially-erected rotating stage, so that characters walk in to the middle of the stage and are ‘twirled’ round by the rotating mechanism. Act 1 takes the audience on an emotional rollercoaster, as the motivation for the nudie calendar is presented. Absolute respect to all of the ladies who disrobe in this production – the ’reveals’ as each member of the WI ladies has their photographs taken by highly-embarrassed hospital porter Lawrence (Jon Barakat) are extremely funny, and got some of the biggest laughs of the night, a massive well done to the female cast members who bared all for the cause, heroes all.

This musical, however, is much more than the “in the buff” scene for which it is famous; it is a tale of community which is presented well by the Director with lots of movement on the stage and many a hilarious exchange. John Clarke (James Pugh) opens the musical with an echoing a cappella before the stage is engulfed with activity. James plays the likeable and full-of-beans John with a real sensitivity as the leukaemia starts to take hold of him. James could have chosen to wear a bald skull cap to represent the results of his character’s chemotherapy but decided to have his hair, and beard, shaved off to raise money for his nominated charity, the Brain Tumour Charity, a very generous gesture. Following his death, his wife Annie (Kate Pilling), has to learn to live without her beloved “Clarkie” with the support of her WI friends. Some of the most moving solos are Kate’s and when her voice breaks with emotion in “Time Passing”, the audience can feel everything that Kate is giving to the ballad.

Annie’s best friend, Chris (Dawn Welch) is a force to be reckoned with. Fiercely loyal and full of “stupid ideas”, it is Chris’ idea to create the calendar. Dawn is wonderful. She powers up the stage whenever she is on it, but also shows a fragility in Chris’ concern over her pubescent son and her grieving friend. Dawn is able to show her range in this role and also her powerful singing voice. The family life presented by Chris, Rod (Greg Yates) and Danny (Ethan Bowley) is warm and comedic and shows contrast effectively during the split stage sequences where Annie is alone on the uncomfortable hospital sofa and the family carry on their lives at the flower shop. Greg, with his typical dad jokes, is a well needed supporting character, distracting from the pain of loss, and Ethan delights as the virginal, Head Boy wannabe. Indeed “Protect Me Less” sung with Jenny (Amy Adams) is one of the highlights for this reviewer. After the emotion of Act 1, watching two teens literally stick two fingers up at the world singing “do as I say not as I do” in response to parental control has the audience in stitches.

All of the WI main members are given their moment to tell their story, whether that’s glamourous Celia (Natalie Whittlesey), who’s so concerned that she doesn’t fit in with her husband’s golf buddies because of her former job – being an air hostess – and because they don’t like cleavage. Natalie delivers her one liners with excellent comic timing; “Beautiful’s here” being an unforgettable line when she enters the stage for the photo shoot. Cora (Heather Bustin) worries that she’s not given her son the best start in life as a single mum and is somewhat repressed by being a vicar’s daughter, and Jesse (Lynne Hill) is simply getting older, but her solo “What Age Expects” really resonates with a lot of the audience members as Lynne sings every word from the heart. Marie (Jenny Padley), as the more traditional head of the WI, struggles with the idea of the calendar, but her character arc allows her to release her fear, and sweet Ruth (Rebecca Bowley) has a hidden secret which is exposed in Act 2 as she emotionally sings “My Russian Friend and I”. Ruth finds strength she never knew she had, and watching her confidence at the end is joyful – this is what community and a stupid idea can do.

This is an outstanding show delivered passionately and professionally by the excellent cast and the superb production team of Adam Lacy Director, Charlotte Jervis Choreographer and David Easto Musical Director. The wonderfully atmospheric lighting was by Going Dark Theatrical Services. Finally full credit must be given to the behind the scenes team without whom this show would not be possible

Calendar Girls is truly uplifting and is an unmissable show. Ticket sales are very strong so if you can find a spare seat or two, I would definitely book them while you can.

Calendar Girls by the Lichfield Operatic Society runs at the Lichfield Garrick main auditorium until Saturday 6 July. The show starts at 7.30pm nightly, with a matinee on Saturday 6 July at 2.30pm. Tickets start from £24.00 and can be booked by ringing the Box Office on 01543 412121, by calling in to the Box Office on Castle Dyke, during normal opening hours, or online at:

www.lichfieldgarrick.com/whats-on/all-shows/calendar-girls-lichfield-operatic-society/3300

 

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