It’s been a few years since I’ve seen the film Calander Girls, and I was really excited to see the musical when it came to Norwich this week. I was not disappointed. It’s got a bit less of the Hollywood glamour than the film, but the message comes across all the more because of that.
The curtains open on a beautiful backdrop of rural Yorkshire that is, apparently, incredibly realistic and the audience is treated to the first song of the show, which is loud, fun, and, well, very Yorkshire! At first it gives the impression that maybe this isn’t the masterpiece that has come to be associated with the title, but as it progresses and more characters get their own time in the spotlight, it’s clear that the music isn’t poor; it’s rough, and intentionally so. This story is about a group of older ladies from Yorkshire who are out to challenge the standards placed on women; they are meant to be a bit rough around the edges, it makes them human. The Yorkshire accents prevent anything from sounding stereotypically pretty, but never at the expense of the emotional core of the show.
And just like that, my biggest criticism has become one of the show’s greatest assets, second only to the chemistry between the characters that feel very real. If the acting seems forced, as it did in a few places, the perceived relationship between the actors counteracts it. Not once during this show did I doubt the affection between those onstage, who seemed not only to have a genuine affection for each other, but also for performing in this show. Throughout the show the cast appeared to be having a great time, and the audience really responded to that. Even in the saddest moments there was an underlaying sense of humour and optimism, which kept everyone smiling (but then I think it would be difficult not to have a connection with the people you perform with when that performance features nude women posing behind a giant Christmas cracker.)
I know it’s cliched and a bit stereotypical, but the final photoshoot was my favourite part, and it is entirely because the women on stage seemed to enjoy what they were doing. I’ve never been subjected to that kind of positive, non-sexual appreciation of the female body before (at least, not in person) and it blew me away. It was funny, it was relatable – as much as posing nude in a room full of people can be – and it was genuinely uplifting to see these women feeling so comfortable in bodies that society does not always deem beautiful, as characters or actors.
Essentially, this show uses a great mix of talent, fun, and raw emotion (with a little dash of Yorkshire) to bring a very powerful message to audiences of all demographics. It’s a great laugh with an important moral and if that isn’t enough to get you to go, I don’t know what is.
Calendar Girls is on at the Norwich Theatre Royal until February 16th.