Calendar Girls at Chichester Festival Theatre REVIEW: 'Glorious Ruth Madoc can still belt out a number'

The national tour of Calendar Girls – The Musical heaves-to at the Festival Theatre until November 23.

Thursday, 14th November 2019, 10:00 am
Updated Thursday, 14th November 2019, 10:01 am
The cast of Calendar Girls, from left: Rebecca Storm, Sue Devaney, Lisa Maxwell, Julia Hills, Ruth Madoc, Sarah Jane Buckley, Judy Holt. Picture by John Swannell

I think we all know the story – daring Women’s Institute members raise money for A Good Cause by creating a nude calendar featuring their members – is based on real events and it is that grounding in reality that packs the punch in this show.

I’d seen the stage-play but came new to the musical version. I wasn’t certain what songs could contribute and – indeed – found Gary Barlow’s score initially forgettable – but therein lies the genius of the piece. It’s not about the songs; it doesn’t matter if you don’t leave the theatre humming them.

This is about people and their response to tragedy and their ability to do – well, anything. The songs, it turns out, are the perfect vehicle for the characters’ thoughts.

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There are big names here, revealing (nearly) all. Glorious Ruth Madoc can still belt out a number at 76 and Sue Devaney packs a powerful vocal punch. Julia Hills as the up-tight Ruth proves comic and vocal ability in the genius number that is My Russian Friend And I. Lisa Maxwell is superb as the enhanced Celia.

Annie (Sarah Jane Buckley) and Chris (the fine Rebecca Storm) imbue the central relationship upon which the show depends with veracity and vitality; superb vocals, too.

At the younger end of the cast, there’s sublime supporting work from Tyler Dobbs, Isabel Caswell and the superbly-comic Danny Howker.

Make it a date.