From Laughter to Tears: Will you be craughing?

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I was at the Birmingham Alexandra Theatre for its opening night of Calendar Girls- The Musical. I had seen the play version of this prior by a local amateur dramatic group in Yorkshire so I knew roughly the outline.  Here is our review of the show.

Calendar Girls the Musical is currently touring with cast that includes recent stars from Coronation Street and EastEnders (Amy Robbins and Tanya Franks), three recording stars whose hit records have approached nearly 70 million in sales (Lyn Paul with The New Seekers, Maureen Nolan with The Nolans and musical theatre star Marti Webb), the co-star of one of TV’s most popular series of the last twenty years (Honeysuckle Weeks of Foyles War), and Paula Tappenden star of Blood Brothers.

Credit: Alex Harvey-Brown

The true story of the Calendar Girls launched a global phenomenon: a million copycat calendars, a record-breaking movie, now celebrating 20 years since its release, the fastest-selling stage play in British theatre history, and now a musical written by Gary Barlow and Tim Firth, which coined the term “craughing” – the act of crying and laughing at the same time!

The first 20 minutes, I did not warm up to the characters and quite a lot of dialogue to transport me on onto a believable journey.

The scenery stayed static most of the time and no grandeur lighting effects.

However things started changing, not far from the interval. A song number came on which made it feel like a huge cast of light was shining on the production. The characters suddenly become more emboldened and I actually saw glimpses of brilliance shining through. 

The interval was then shortly after and I thought maybe, just maybe it could be good. 

The second half of the production was so much better, more songs, more funny moments, which had the audience laughing and characters that I could believe in.

Some of the actors did have good Yorkshire accents but some less so. 

Whilst the lighting and scenery were very simple, it gave more opportunity for the audience’s focus to remain on the acting and the scenes unfolding in front of them. 

This is based on a true story of local WI women who turned a tragic story into a global phenomenon, you may have seen the film, but if you have not seen the musical yet. Here is your chance

In my reviews I always give shout outs to the actors and notable performances. Colin Campbell played John beautifully, John appeared to be full of life, humorous and a linchpin of the show. 

Credit: Alex Harvey-Brown

I loved Tanya Franks portrayal of Annie, Maureen Nolan as Ruth and  Amy Robbins as Chris. Amy showed the tenderness of Chris and also her confidence. Honeysuckle Weeks playing Cora also deserves a huge shout. Each of these actors bought the show alive with their respective characters. 

This is not a flashy, jukebox musical. The production follows a strong story line, with humorous and tender moments. It will leave you feeling happy and sad. The staging is simple but effective. Do not worry about the first 20 minutes of the show, it does get better. The 2nd half of the show really brings the production alive. Let’s not forget the real WI women who this production was created from. 

Well done to all the production crew and actors involved in this production at Birmingham Alexandra Theatre. It continues on a tour, but grab it whilst you can.

Tim Firth one of the co-writers of the production

Tim Firth’s involvement with Calendar Girls began with the original movie 20 years ago and along with his writing partner of the musical, Gary Barlow, has reworked this new production ahead of an extensive UK tour. Tim tells us a little about the new musical and the inspiration behind its reimagining.

“There was something in the heart of lockdown that was all about time; about suddenly being dumped with a container load of it, about managing that, not resenting it, realising you were lucky to have it and not to waste it, if you were well enough to enjoy it. Of course, it’s only looking back that we can get that kind of perspective. For the pair of us it just presented as an inexplicable urge to DO stuff; to write, to

Now, by this time it was a good few years since we had written the show and there was justifiable trepidation in returning to the project. After all it had been in the West End, done a national tour and was due to be performed by many companies around the UK if and when lockdown finished. However, that UK was going to have changed. The world had.  It was a time of global reboot. The planet had been attacked by a unilateral force in a way that had never really happened before and the indiscriminate nature of that assault had done something fundamental to our perception of boundaries. Or borders. Of sticking to parameters that already existed.  A strange sense of liberation came out of the confinement that meant we thought – whatever you’re thinking, just try it. Take the chance. Have a fresh look. Take the jump. 

Maybe we’ll never get that sense of empowerment again. It was like the bravery you have when starting out as a kid and feel you have nothing to lose. That was it; the spirit we momentarily regained meant we re-wrote like we had nothing to lose. In a sense we were led by the words of Dare, one of the songs in the show; something about taking a jump without the fear meaning you stand a better chance of making a landing on the other side.

Well, this is where we landed, relieved it was all still intact, grateful to have a producer willing to mount it and excited at the prospect of reimagining the staging and the sound of a now-familiar story. During previews our agent Alan texted, having noticed it was fifteen years since the first night of the stage version of Calendar Girls. I said I can’t believe all these years later we’re still here rewriting it. But to be honest it’s a privilege that we are, and that the story is so unique in that regard.

The film is twenty years old this year, the real girls more than twenty years older but their story, like their sunflowers, seems to keep reseeding of its own accord; and when it does, the flower is always, always the same. It’s only the shape that changes.”

Tickets available from website: atgtickets.com/Birmingham

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