Review: 5***** Calendar Girls The Regent Theatre Ipswich @thegirlsmusical @IpswichRegent

We at Playhouse Pickings have seen Calendar Girls a few times and, once again, it has not failed to make us laugh, make us cry, and be quite simply one of the best shows we have seen.

A story of loss, love and hope all stemmed from a tragic story back in 1998, when Angela Baker lost her husband to non-Hodgkins’s Lymphoma, and sought comfort in making something good out of something so heart-breaking – with the aim of providing the local hospital with a new sofa through sales of their nude calendar, and to prove John wrong (he thought they’d never do it!). Ladies of the WI banded together to create a never-seen-before Calendar that gained a place in the national newspapers, international press attention, and sold out in the first week. All proceeds were used to fund lymphoma and leukaemia research (now known as Bloodwise) and have so far raised over £5 million. Until the 26 th October, Tim Firth and Gary Barlow are bringing this story to life, once again, with just as much humility, love and affection as it has always deserved.

The Regent is hosting one of the must-see musicals of the past 20 years, and it has to be said – it was an absolute joy and privilege to be there to see it. A Yorkshire backdrop creates the simplest of scenes greeting you as you take your seats. A hilly backdrop with a simple gate to one side and a decking-style stage floor. The first musical number introduces all the characters involved, if not somewhat hindered by the imperfect sounding, making it difficult to hear all the words up in the Circle. The second musical number, however, makes up for any negative first impressions with an impressively and emotionally charged number from Sarah Jane Buckley, reflecting on how life may be after her husband dies, something that had me in tears from the get go.

This continued for most of the show: completely stripped back, honest and open dialogue and the purest and most beautifully sung songs I can remember ever hearing on the Regent Stage. Every character is explored much more deeply than “just a member of the WI”, and added many more layers to an already well known storyline. This only added to my already fragile state, and intensified as the heartrending story continued. The addition of two younger characters helped make the narrative much more inclusive, and provided an intergenerational element, which could help the story reach a younger audience.

All in all, this was a beautifully presented show, with stunning vocal performances and enough emotion to weaken even the strongest. An absolute joy.

The show is at The Regent until 26th October and is on tour until 23 November.

Writers: Gary Barlow and Tim Firth

Diretor: Matt Ryan

Set: Robert Jones

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