Calendar Girls brings a taste of Yorkshire to the Ipswich Regent

Calendar Girls: The Musical l-r Sarah Jane Buckley, Lisa Maxwell, Rebecca Storm, Ruth Madoc, Judy Ho

Calendar Girls: The Musical l-r Sarah Jane Buckley, Lisa Maxwell, Rebecca Storm, Ruth Madoc, Judy Holt, Sue Daveney, Julia Hills Photo: John Swannell - Credit: Archant

Review: Calendar Girls: The Musical, by Tim Firth and Gary Barlow, Ipswich Regent, until Saturday October 26

They say that truth is stranger than fiction and the story of the Rylstone WI and their life-changing nude calendar, created to raise funds for their local cancer hospital has inspired writer Tim Firth to pen a film screenplay, stage a play and now collaborate with Take That songsmith Gary Barlow to create a musical.

Although, the story is the same in each of the three incarnations, the emphasis is clearly different. The film is more wide ranging telling a much broader story which ends up in Los Angeles, while the play concentrates on the relationships between the women and the musical anchors the story very much around Annie's relationship with her husband John Clarke and her on-going friendship with her flighty, wayward pal Chris, whose idea it was to come up with the calendar.

The staging is simple but effective with a Yorkshire landscape seemingly stretching off into the distance and atmospheric lighting providing some gorgeous evening twilight at key moments of the play.

Director Matt Ryan has cast the play well and there is strength in depth among the 23 person cast. Although the focus of the piece is on Sarah Jane Buckley as Annie, the heartbroken but stoic widow, and Rebecca Storm as her best pal Chris, everyone has their moment to shine.

A lot of time is spent on character, making each woman an individual rather a collective WI 'type' which is great and there is a wonderful 'young love' sub-plot involving the teenage off-spring of two of the members, which brings a nice intergenerational touch to the story but sad to say, the songs didn't grab me or indeed move me in the way that I was hoping for.

They all came across as being rather samey and not a patch on Gary and Tim's highly distinctive numbers for The Band, their earlier collaboration about Take That fans.

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This was a pity because with the collective acting talent on display, you needed some musical muscle for them to get their teeth into and sadly the songs all seemed rather too generic for any of them to stand out.

Putting that aside, the story is so inspirational and the actors performances are so committed, that there is still plenty to relish in this otherwise very polished show.