Thursday, September 1, 2022

Operatic's Calendar Girls shows some sheer naked talent

* The Operatic's Calendar Girls, all in the best possible taste. Picture by Gem Photography.

Llanblogger first night review

There certainly is some naked talent on display in Llangollen Operatic's production of Calendar Girls which opened at the town hall last night. 

And it was on show from top to bottom of this musical version of the story in which members of a Yorkshire Women's Institute shamelessly shed the movement's traditional jam and Jerusalem image - along with their clothes. 

Their aim is to create a nude calendar to raise funds for a new couch for the relatives’ room attached to the hospital where the husband of one of their members undergoes treatment for his blood cancer. 

Unfortunately, John Clarke, played thoughtfully by Simon Orton-Jones, loses his battle with the disease but his death only spurs on the money-spinning efforts of wife Annie - a marvelous portrayal by Simon's real-life missus Tessa Orton-Jones - and her WI mates. 

Of the many Llan Operatic productions I have seen this was the one which most engaged the audience right from the start and throughout. 

In fact, such was their cheering enthusiasm for the action on stage that I expected a standing ovation to break out well before the one the cast actually and most deservedly received at the end. 

The show, by Tim Firth and THE Gary Barlow, takes you from comedic highs to tragic lows, all is coveyed in wonderful style by a cast of around 20, including a few who have previously shone in productions by the society’s junior section, the Young ‘Uns. 

It takes some doing not only to learn all your lines and songs without the need to remove all your clothes for the big photography scene at the end but the six ladies who are called upon to take that daunting extra step do it in fine style – and all in the very best of taste thanks to the skilful deployment of props like the famous Chelsea buns, screens and some extremely artful posing. 

Most of them achieved it only after lots of searching rehearsals but one of them enjoyed no such benefit. The fabulous Louise Lyne – a newcomer to the Operatic – stepped in with just a couple of days notice to take over the pivotal role of Chris, the woman who actually comes up with the idea for the saucy calendar, when the lady who was due to play it, Russ Latham, fell ill.   

Such is the importance of this part that in the famous 2003 film version it's played by Dame Helen Mirren.

The action and songs, some of them with true emotion-wringing power, are arranged to give each of the key players a crack at telling their stories. And a couple of them do this so well, such as Sue O’Neill as the daunting ex-teacher Jessie, that I thought that early standing ovation was on its way. 

The sheer power of the performances across the entire cast, and from the small group of musicians which backs them every step of the way, is simply incredible and a tribute to the deft guidance of artistic director Nia Pickering, musical director Elen Mair Roberts and producer/stage manager Tracey Kempster Jones.

Forget the fluffed lines and wobbly scenery sometimes associated with am-dram. This is professional grade theatre, ready and stripped for action. 

At each performance of Calendar Girls The Musical this week, there will be an opportunity to donate to The Shooting Star Cancer Support charity.

This amazing charity raises money to support the clinicians and the patients being treated in the Shooting Star Unit in Wrexham Maelor Hospital.

*Calendar Girls is running at the Town Hall this Saturday. Tickets are available from

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