When the intrepid women of the Rylstone Women’s Institute stripped off for a charity calendar the reluctant pin ups never dreamed they would become stars of a smash hit movie, stage play and now a musical penned
by Take That superstar Gary Barlow no less, writes Paul Clarke.
The pop star turned composer was so inspired by their story he got together with the film’s writer Tim Firth to pen The Girls that has just had its world premiere at Leeds Grand Theatre. For those few people still unfamiliar with the story it focuses on a group of WI stalwarts who when one of their members loses her husband to leukaemia decide to raise a few bob by posing nude with their modesty protected by strategically placed objects.
The conservative women of this WI branch deep in the Yorkshire Dales were astonished when the calendar became a world-wide media sensation ultimately raising millions for cancer charities, and inspiring thousands of similar nude calendars.
As you might imagine Gary Barlow knows how to write a decent tune - he’s sold millions of records over the years - and here none is better than the stirring Yorkshire anthem that opens the show.
The cast is packed full of West End veterans who really know how belt out a song that could quite easily become our county’s national anthem if Yorkshire ever wins the devolution battle.
Tim Firth caught the writing bug on an Arvon Foundation course in Mytholmroyd, which brings the production nicely close to home and his witty lyrics are just as important as the music, with plenty of genuinely poignant moments that like the film will reduce the this musical’s audiences to tears when they turn out to Leeds Grand and no doubt London’s West End eventually.
But as anyone who knows the story will tell you, there are also huge belly laughs too as the WI members wrestle with how to strike a nude pose while still hiding their modesty.
The bravery of the Calendar Girls that inspired this show helped a whole new generation of WI members across Calderdale to throw off the old ‘jam and Jerusalem’ stereotype in favour of taking on contemporary issues that impact on their members like mental health and challenging domestic violence.
This special press show ended spectacularly with the original Calendar Girls joining the cast on stage.
The Girls runs until Saturday December 12 at Leeds Grand Theatre so get online and see what’s available and make the short trip down the M62.
lFor full details and booking go to leedsgrandtheatre.com or call the box office on 0844 848 2700.