• Alice G

Calendar Girls at Oxford Playhouse - Review

Who wants a silent night when you could have this fun-filled riot of a show?!


From the opening number "Yorkshire", a Belle-esque montage of village life, I was blown away by the professional level of the performances, costumes and lighting in this show. With fantastic singing, spot-on Yorkshire accents and a gorgeous set featuring rolling Yorkshire dales, this truly is a top-notch production. It exceeded my expectations of both the material and just how good amateur theatre can be.

Calendar Girls: The Musical is based on the play and film of the same name. The story is about Annie Clarke, whose husband John dies of cancer at an early age. Her friend Chris has the idea of buying a sofa for the Relatives' Room of the hospital where John was treated. To raise the money, she suggests creating and selling a (tasteful) nude calendar, featuring the ladies of the Knapely Women's Institute engaged in classic WI activities. At first, everyone is shocked, and adamant they won't take part. But over time, their minds begin to change...

I was familiar with the vague plot of the film and musical, but what I didn't realise was that the calendar is not really the main focus of the story. Rather, we spend the entire first act of the musical getting to know the characters and their world, before the calendar is even brought up. And this world is constructed beautifully, with a script filled with loving digs at Englishness and the WI. The characters are by no means two-dimensional, and are well-characterised by this cast. I am sure that the stories told in the show will be relatable to many people, as they touch on many serious themes, such as grief, alcoholism and single parenthood.

Clare Dovey-Wilson's Annie is immensely sympathetic, bringing a beautiful voice and down-to-earth charm to the character. Chilina Thurlby-Brooks, playing Chris, is a ball of hilarious energy; initially wacky and wild, she later reveals her more serious side, playing both aspects beautifully. Marilyn Moore is Jessie, the stern ex-teacher with a twinkle in her eye. She lands every zinger perfectly, and has the audience laughing with as little as an expressive look. Cat Blagrove brings the house down with her number "Who Wants A Silent Night", which she leads from the front with complete confidence and charm. Kerry Crewe is brilliant as the former air hostess Celia; Rachel Haydon is sweet and heartbreaking as the long-suffering Ruth, and Nicky Robinson does an excellent job as traditionalist stick-in-the-mud Marie. Nicola Taylor and Sam Foster are hilarious and very convincing as the rebel teenagers Jenny and Danny, making their romantic subplot a highlight of the show. There are simply too many excellent performances to mention, so I'll save space by saying that the whole cast delivered their roles with aplomb and bucketloads of talent.

The score was performed live by the very talented 7-piece OXOPS band, and beautifully sung by the cast. Ranging from catchy bops such "Who Wants A Silent Night?" and "Dare" to poignant, melancholy ballads like "Scarborough" and "My Russian Friend and I", the songs left me wondering why this show isn't performed more often.

If you are anywhere near Oxford, get yourself down to the Playhouse for this joyful and brilliantly performed show!

Calendar Girls is running at Oxford Playhouse until 16th July 2022. Tickets are found here.

*NOTE: I am not affiliated with the show*