Calendar Girls, review: Congress Theatre, Eastbourne, until Saturday August 10

The Calendar Girls outside the Congress Theatre, Eastbourne. Peter Gurr photography
The Calendar Girls outside the Congress Theatre, Eastbourne. Peter Gurr photography

Heart-warming, witty and uplifting, Calendar Girls the musical is at the Congress Theatre this week.

It is based on the true story of the women of Knapely WI, who raised money to buy a memorial for a beloved friend, by creating a nude calendar. This caused a media sensation, resulting in a film and play. How could a musical follow?

Gary Barlow and Tim Firth create a fresh take on the story. The dynamics for the musical are altered suitably from the original film, with the hilarious calendar photoshoot becoming the climax of the show. The story relates to all different stages of life, from first rebellions and first loves to coming to terms with the death of a loved one and all the hurdles along the way. Matt Ryan’s direction handles the emotional events delicately but still retains and embellishes that spark of wit and humanity.

Rebecca Storm as Chris and Sarah Jane Buckley as Annie complement each other as the two lifelong friends. Both their solo numbers are stand-out performances, and the chemistry between them shines through as they campaign for the calendar.

The whole cast are strong from beginning to end. The opening ensemble number shows the supportive community spirit of the village, emphasised even more so when John (played charmingly by Phil Corbitt) cites his last farewell in a poignant but beautifully orchestrated goodbye.

Another stand-out is Lesley Joseph (who will return to the Congress next week with her performance of Miss Hannigan) as a feisty Jessie. Her solo number is a rousing spoken song, reminding the ladies that age does not define a person, but the heart does. A stand-out number welcomed with tremendous applause.

The set and lighting, designed by Robert Jones, depicts a picturesque landscape of Yorkshire. With minimal set changes, the show has a lively pace to it and flows well. The music offers a good balance between the cheerful numbers and the sorrowful and reflective ballads.

This is a young musical, but at the centre of it stands a mature cast who are young at heart. It’s refreshing to see this cast hold the stage with exemplary power, vocal control and exuberant energy. A fantastic performance from the whole cast and crew. I can’t remember the last time I saw an audience rising for a standing ovation so quickly.

Calendar Girls will leave audiences with tears in their eyes but smiles beaming around the whole theatre.

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