Calendar Girls

Cal

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

There can’t be many people who don’t know the magnificent story of the Rylstone & District Women’s Institute and their impressively innovative way of raising funds; but, if there are then lucky for them writer Tim Firth and long-time friend Gary Barlow have worked their collective storytelling magic to create a musical about the ground-breaking WI ladies.

When Yorkshire lass and WI member Annie (Anna-Jane Casey) loses her beloved husband John (Phil Corbitt) to leukaemia a seed is planted by best pal Chris (Rebecca Storm) to raise funds for a comfy sofa for the visitor’s room at Skipton General. These funds won’t be raised with a traditional raffle or tasty bake sale, but by the girls creating their very own ‘alternative’ calendar for distribution across the Dales.

There are tender moments throughout this moving piece, where tears threaten as the cruelty of life is played out, none more so than during Anna-Jane Casey’s emotional delivery of Kilimanjaro. These poignant moments are interspersed wonderfully with witty laugh out loud moments which firmly remind us that in life if we want to experience the highs we must also accept the heart-breaking lows.

As the idea of the ladies baring all inches closer to becoming a reality we see them wrestle with their own insecurities and daily battles offering the realisation that we all face similar difficulties and obstacles in life.

Firth and Barlow’s pairing is an impressive one, the script is warm, genuinely funny and entirely relatable while accompanying songs flow seamlessly as lyrical extensions of the script.

The reworking of this piece from its original 2015 incarnation sees some notable changes. The decision to opt for a celebrity based cast works well in part with each actor enormously likeable and engaging however the multitude of accents robs the production of its down to earth, grass roots charm and at times is distracting from the story. As the Yorkshire grit and determination is lost so its authenticity is watered down.

Likewise designer Robert Jones has scaled back the previous touring set, the green drawers and cupboards which created the rolling Yorkshire hills now replaced with a regularly opened gate, effective still but its impact not comparable.

Despite these quibbles Firth and Barlow’s superb storytelling still shines through as the cast take us on an inspirational story which turns tragedy into triumph.

Anna-Jane Casey and Rebecca Storm as best friends Annie and Chris are hugely impressive, pals through thick and thin their pairing is convincing and genuinely touching.

Karen Dunbar as Cara is hilarious, add to this a superb turn from the legendary Ruth Madoc who delights in every opportunity to raise a laugh.

There’s also a wonderfully written comedy sub-plot in which the younger members of the cast fight their own battles of teenage angst, first love and the absolute worst….embarrassing parents. Isabel Caswell, Danny Howker and Tyler Dobbs as Jenny, Danny and Tommo respectively are joyful to watch.

Calendar Girls portrays the inspirational story of the courageous women of Yorkshire with wit and genuine warmth, while there is sadness the bloody-minded defiance of these strong Northern women is there for all to see. Heart-warming in its delivery and inspiring in its message.

Calendar Girls is on at The Lowry until Saturday 10th November tickets available here.

The Band head to The Lowry!

 

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Due to overwhelming public demand, Tim Firth’s smash-hit new musical, The Band, featuring the music of Take That, will return to the North West with a stop at The Lowry from Wednesday 16th until Saturday 26th January 2018.

The show which we gave a well-deserved five stars. is produced by David Pugh & Dafydd Rogers and Gary Barlow, Howard Donald, Mark Owen, Robbie Williams takes audiences us back to 1992 when for five 16 year old friends The Band is their absolute everything, they live, breathe, eat & sleep the music. Fast forward 25 years and life is somewhat different for our ladies as they attempt one last time to meet their teenage crushes. The winning of concert tickets to Prague soon becomes a journey of self-discover as they not only attempt to reconnect with each other but remember and realise the hopes and dreams of their 16 year old selves.

With superb direction from Kim Gavin and Jack Ryder, The Band has quickly become the fastest selling touring musical of all time as the show continues to delight audiences across the country.

Ticket information can be found here.

The Band

Opening Night rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

The Band Q

Tim Firth’s much anticipated new musical using the songs of Take That officially opened in Manchester last night after just over 2 weeks of previews and was without doubt the hottest ticket in town.

Taking us back to 1992 when for five 16 year old friends The Band is their absolute everything, they live, breathe, eat & sleep the music. Fast forward 25 years and life is somewhat different for our ladies as they attempt one last time to meet their teenage crushes. The winning of concert tickets to Prague soon becomes a journey of self-discover as they not only attempt to reconnect with each other but remember and realise the hopes and dreams of their 16 year old selves.

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Tim Firth once again delivers a truly wonderful script; his writing for the women in this show is emotional, informed and enormously relatable, he just gets women. Incredibly emotional in parts, each character feels entirely real and will undoubtedly strike a chord with its audience. Not only do you see your 16 year old self in the younger girls, their sass, their energy and love for each other but the recognisable elements in the lives of the women really make for some incredibly moving moments. Life has moved on and gone in unplanned directions but we soon realise their inner child was there all along, just waiting to be given the chance to run free again.

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The five young actresses playing the girls Faye Christall, Rachelle Diedericks, Katy Clayton, Lauren Jacobs and Sarah Kate Howarth are exceptional, witty, full of fun and incredibly lovable, their portrayal of being 16 and in love with a boy band is just perfect, throw in lots of cultural references and you are literally back standing outside the Apollo with them, plastic dummy round your neck with a train ticket in your hand you should have used an hour ago.

Superb direction from Kim Gavin and Jack Ryder ensures Jon Bausor’s creative set is used to its full potential, moving from High School corridors to airport runways seamlessly, cleverly making use of The Band to change scenes and move props without stalling the action. Take That’s music has been cleverly placed throughout the production; songs are used sensitively allowing the lyrics to be heard differently as well as to great comedic effect when life decisions need to be made. Just as we feel we might be heading down a slightly cheesy path a laugh is delivered and we realise that this clever production isn’t afraid to poke fun at its own jukebox genre.

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Winners of BBC’s Let It Shine, Five To Five made up of AJ Bentley, Curtis T Johns, Sario Solomon, Nick Carsberg and Yazdan Qafouri work incredibly hard throughout the show and deliver as well as some stunning vocals, incredibly slick choreography, creating the perfect soundtrack to this uplifting and vibrant production. They supply the soundtrack to our ladies lives from start to finish, proving to be the one thing they can rely on to be a constant in life, instantly offering a safe haven, taking them away from places of pain and sadness.

As the production progresses our main focus becomes the four ladies, 25 years older and reconnecting for the first time, Rachel Lumberg, Alison Fitzjohn, Emily Joyce and Jayne McKenna are faultless. Witty, full of suprises and entirely relatable, they capture the true essence of friendship, it’s not all plain sailing, just as life rarely is.

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The Band Musical is pure joy, uplifting, life-affirming, laugh out loud fun. Delivering a real message of friendship, love, rediscovery and the importance of being true to yourself. You’ll reminisce, reflect, laugh and cry through this very special show but most of all you’ll leave the theatre with a full heart and a contented soul, an absolute must-see.

On at the Manchester Opera House until Saturday 30th September before beginning a national tour, tickets available here http://www.thebandmusical.com/

The Band in pictures

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Official images have been released offering fans a first look at Take That and Tim Firth’s new musical, The Band, which has it’s official opening at Manchester’s Opera House tomorrow night.

The show tells the story of a group of friends for whom aged 16 The Band was their everything, now 25 years later they reunite in a bid to meet their heroes and rediscover their friendships.

Directed by Kim Gavin and Jack Ryder and featuring BBC’s Let it Shine winners Five To Five, The Band sets out on a UK tour once leaving Manchester, tickets and further information can be found here; http://www.thebandmusical.com/tour

Credit to Matt Crockett for these fantastic images.

Behind the Scenes at The Band, Part 3

LtoR Curtis T Johns, Nick Carsberg, AJ Bentley, Yazdan Qafouri, Sario So...

(Left to Right) Five To Five: Curtis T Johns, Nick Carsberg, AJ Bentley, Yazdan Qafouri, Sario Solomon

We’ve met the lovely leading ladies behind the show, the genius that is director and choreographer Kim Gavin, so now we move on to the all important voices who bring all those familiar Take That songs we know and love to life!

AJ Bentley, Nick Carsberg, Curtis T Johns, Yazdan Qafouri and Sario Solomon collectively known as Five To Five and winners of BBC1’s Let It Shine play gave us a little background on just how it feels to be involved in such an exciting and hugely anticipated production.

(Opening Night) ON: From winning on Let It Shine to now must have been quite a ride, how has it been for you guys?

AJ: An absolute whirlwind would be one way to describe it, it’s been completly mad, from the start to where we are now. The rehearsals have been full on and we’re just so glad to be involved in such an incredible show, putting it in front of an audience has just been amazing.

Yazdan: It’s been a long time coming, we’ve been so excited. We’ve been doing workshops, doing some of our own stuff and then into rehearsals. Now, after months of toiling away behind the scenes, we’re finally bringing it to an audience.

Sario: We were literally itching to get on stage, the workshops were great and we learnt so much but they feel like so long ago now.

AJ: We learnt something new each day. With Take That being producers on the show they came in a lot and mentored us which has been absolutely invaluable.

ON: Have you adopted a member of Take That in terms of your character?

Curtis: No, not really, although in the show we play the band, we play ourselves the band Five To Five. All of the qualities of Take That as individuals and as a group we take on board and we feel that singing their songs is part of their legacy and we absolutely have to do it justice and make sure we give every song what it deserves. So, although we take the qualities, we’re not Take That and we’re not trying to imitate them.

ON: We imagine your Mums must have been Take That fans, are they extremely excited about this?

Sario: My Mum’s already seen it three times and we’ve only done three shows!

AJ: We grew up with that music because our parents were fans, now we’re working with Take That, we’re singing their music in their musical, that’s beyond our wildest dreams and I think even what our parents dreamt for us!

ON: Do your Mums want to be roadies?

Nick: Yes! They’re really proud of us, I think for them it must be surreal to watch your child go off and do something so incredible.

ON: Thinking back to the night it was announced on BBC’s Let It Shine that you’d been chosen to be ‘The Band’, what were your initial feelings?

AJ: It was crazy, we’ve all watched talent shows and thought I want that to happen to me then when it does it’s literally indescribable, beyond our wildest dreams.

ON: We absolutely loved the way so many Take That songs are so brilliantly used in the story, we especially loved The Flood. You got a mid-performance standing ovation from some audience members during the song, how does that feel?

Sario: It’s great that we get to deliver the songs differently, with our different voices. People are so used to hearing Take That singing these songs and they sing them so well but hearing different voices offers a different experience. Knowing we have Take That’s stamp of approval makes it even more special.

ON: We’ve seen some tweets off Take That wishing you good luck, have they given you any advice?

Sario: “Don’t mess it up!”

Yazdan: Their mentoring has been invaluable, sharing the stage with them tonight was amazing.

(Take That surprised the boys AND the audience by joining them onstage for a special encore)

Just being in their company we’ve learnt so much.

Sario: The one thing they alway say is just enjoy it, go out there and just enjoy every minute of it. This is such a precious gift we have, to be able to perform to such amazing audiences every night is incredible, we just want to enjoy this unbelievable experience.

Curtis: It’s a cliche but we are ‘living the dream’.

ON: This tour is just starting, but afterwards will Five To Five continue?

AJ: Yes, absolutely. We’ve signed a three year management deal so obviously this is currently our priority but things will be bubbling away under the surface. We will be working with Take That and our management on new material which we’re all very excited about.

ON: Curtis, will you be writing the new material? 

Curtis: I think we’ll all be writing the songs, it all feels very exciting, like we’re at the start of a long journey for us as Five To Five. This really is just the start!

The Band runs at Manchester’s Opera House until 30th September 2017 before starting a UK tour.

For tickets and further information head to http://www.atgtickets.com/shows/the-band/opera-house-manchester/

http://www.bandmusical.com/tour