What marvellous fun

Cast members from Calendar Girls in Blackpool
Cast members from Calendar Girls in Blackpool
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Calendar Girls - Blackpool Opera House

IT’S ALWAYS a pleasure to see the mighty Opera House full. But on a Monday night? In late September. For a play? It’s nothing short of a joy.

Then again this is more of an institution, almost a pilgrimage (audience ratio nine women to every one man), than a mere play – and it’s been difficult to avoid posters and publicity about its arrival for some months now.

Inspired by the now national treasures who changed the face of the Women’s Institute by coming up with what was then – a mere dozen years ago – the revolutionary idea of ordinary women of various ages and shapes appearing nude (“not naked”) for a fund raising calendar in memory of the late husband of one of their members, the story has long since taken on a life of its own.

It didn’t take long for them to gain international publicity on their own merits, then receive a second helping courtesy of the film their story spawned – and now a stage version which is re-writing the record books with its box office figures and longevity.

Next year it’s being made available to amateur groups but in the meantime writer Tim Firth’s marvellously funny script is in the hands of an experienced cast which is clearly having fun – notwithstanding any draughts blowing across this biggest stage on the production’s mammoth tour.

Firth has obviously fictionalised the story – glossing over some of the cracks in some of the real relationships and providing the ladies with enough one liners for them to make an additional living as stand-up comediennes if needs be. To that end Ruth Madoc is instantly at home as an over the top Marie, Lynda Bellingham is an instant favourite as the organisational Chris and Deena Payne is an attractively funky late replacement as the more bohemian Cora.

But it’s an ensemble production with familiar names such as Jan Harvey, Rula Lenska and Joe McGann all adding their talents – and audience appeal – to the proceedings.

It runs to Saturday but you’ll never look at ice buns, plum jam and knitting in the same way again.