Gary Barlow and Tim Firth’s “Calendar Girls,” touring to Stoke’s Regent Theatre, immerses the audience in the heartwarming and often humorous tale of a Yorkshire W.I. group’s unconventional charity efforts. Premiering in 2015, this musical adaptation weaves together the threads of humour, optimism, and unexpected brightness, creating an emotionally resonant narrative and leaving the whole audience with a smile.
The show is marked by a stunningly talented cast who all have their moments to shine and show a real understanding of their characters. Despite an exceptionally talented cast, there are some performances which really stand out. Tanya Franks, embodying the central character Annie, offers a performance marked by nuance and emotional depth. What truly stands out is her exceptional vocal performance, which allows her character to truly come to life on the stage. Franks seamlessly weaves her singing into the fabric of Annie’s journey, creating a dynamic and immersive experience for the audience.
Amy Robbins, in the role of Chris, showcases her talent through impeccable comic timing, emotional authenticity, and a vocal range that breathes life into her character. Her ability to navigate the complexities of Chris’s personality adds layers of authenticity, making her a standout force on the stage. Robbins infuses Chris with a vibrant energy that resonates throughout the performance.
Lyn Paul’s performance as Jessie is a testament to her exceptional vocal and acting abilities. Her rendition of ‘What Age Expects’ becomes a poignant highlight, showcasing not only her vocal prowess but also her ability to convey the emotional depth of the character. Paul infuses Jessie with a vibrant energy and charismatic stage presence that significantly contributes to the overall engagement of the audience.
In terms of design elements, Gary McCann’s set design effectively provides a solid foundation, there’s room for improvement to enable different locations to shine. The one-room setting for the entire show, though practical, limits the visual variety that could enhance the overall impact. A more versatile set design could elevate the storytelling, allowing different scenes to unfold with distinct visual flair. We saw a peek at this at the very end of the show and I only wished there had been more movement of the set to allow for moments such as the car scene are given the space they deserve.
Under the masterful direction of Nick Richings, the lighting becomes a standout element of the production. Creating visually stunning atmospheres, the lighting enhances the emotional beats of the narrative and the seasonal changes. The nuanced interplay of light contributes to the overall immersive experience, adding depth and dimension to the storytelling.
Dan Keen and Jordan Alexander’s musical direction ensures that the music is not merely an accompaniment but an integral part of the narrative. The musical arrangements effectively capture the emotional nuances of the story, providing a consistent and resonant backdrop to the characters’ journeys. The music becomes a driving force, seamlessly weaving through the narrative and enhancing the overall theatrical experience.
The ambitious script, attempting to delve into the backstories of all seven girls, grapples with pacing issues. While the desire to provide depth to each character is commendable, it results in superfluous songs and scenes that affect the overall flow. A more focused approach could strike a balance between narrative depth and pacing, allowing the audience to delve into the characters’ lives without sacrificing the overall cohesion of the production. When adapting a film for the stage, this is always a concern. Several characters became underdeveloped but the musical sought out an opportunity to give each one a song, which is not always the most effective and not always relevant to the story.
“Calendar Girls” at Stoke’s Regent Theatre is a theatrical journey that combines exceptional performances, captivating design elements, and a musical score that resonates with emotion. Tanya Franks, Amy Robbins, and Lyn Paul lead a cast that brings the characters to life with authenticity and depth. While the script’s ambition presents challenges in pacing, the overall production succeeds in delivering a delightful and emotionally resonant experience. With effective lighting, consistent music, and engaging performances, “Calendar Girls” stands as a testament to the enduring power of humour, optimism, and unexpected brightness in the world of musical theatre.
Calendar Girls is at Stoke’s Regent Theatre until 18th November 2023 when it will continue its UK tour. Tickets available here.
Photos throughout from Alex Harvey