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Calendar Girls the Musical, written by Gary Barlow and Tim Firth, heading to the Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury as part of UK tour

By Molly Mileham-Chappell

Their tale inspired a book, play and a film.

Now Calendar Girls the Musical is heading to Kent, with music by Take That's Gary Barlow.

This year marks 20 years since a Yorkshireman named John Baker was diagnosed with non Hodgkins Lymphoma - a blood cancer - which kicked off the story.

The show heads to the Marlowe Theatre in Cantebury in September (1935403)
The show heads to the Marlowe Theatre in Cantebury in September (1935403)

He tragically passed away, but what happened in the years that followed could never have been predicted, least of all by the women around him who were directly affected.

His wife Angela was a local Women's Institute member, and her friend Tricia always thought it would be fun for the group to made a light-hearted nude calendar.

That was until John's diagnosis, when they felt it needed to become a reality to help raise funds for research into the condition.

Their story became known worldwide as the 'Calendar Girls'.

Now, a musical of the same name has been created by writer Tim Firth and singer-songwriter Gary Barlow, of Take That fame.

Originally called 'The Girls' when it premiered in Leeds in 2015, the critically acclaimed and award-winning show also celebrated a six month run in London's West End last year.

It's now going through a major revamp, with a new cast, set, extra songs and even a name change ahead of it's UK tour later this year.

"We felt we should change the name the first time because the play had been so successful." said Tim Firth, at the show's recent press launch in Burnsall, Yorkshire.

"We thought at that point maybe we should change the title just to tell people this is a musical.

"And sometimes in life you think 'maybe we made the wrong choice' and what we should have done was call it Calendar Girls!"

Gary Barlow also spoke exclusive to KentOnline reporter Molly Mileham-Chappell for What's On.

He said being asked to get involved with the project by Tim Firth was an honour: "It's been an adventure this one, and this was officially the first musical I got involved with.

"We've seen it move audiences so many times that we know it's worth fighting for.

"It's born from a regional story, and we feel it's really important for the show to tour and we're excited to get it back out there.

"I don't think there's any show on the West End and Broadway that doesn't come with it's challenges and heartache, it just does. It's definitely made me a better writer.

"I love it. One thing I'd never experienced was watching my music from an audience. I'd always been the one on the stage."

Fern Britton is presented with a cake by one of the original Calendar Girls (2043548)
Fern Britton is presented with a cake by one of the original Calendar Girls (2043548)

But he said it can be a little daunting at times: "The people that inspired this show are still alive and they feel very much a part of this show so you've got a big responsibility to them.

"So far, we seem to be all right. It's always at the back of our minds."

He said he thinks the tour is a good opportunity for the story to have a new life: "It's a really harsh environment in the West End. We weren't put off from our six months in the West End at all - in fact it made us more determined that we needed to find our audience for this show.

"I do believe that we need to do the groundwork now, we need to go out around the UK and we need to get audiences to fall in love again with this story and this show. I think it's home is in a better place being out in the regions.

"The most important thread of this show is the believable friendship amongst these women. So to see them all getting on, I thought 'okay I'm going to believe this now.' It's the invisible part that you can't sort of quantify."

The new cast, which includes celebs Ruth Madoc, Denise Welch and Fern Britton, sung three songs from the show - Sunflower, Scarborough and Dare - to a select audience of press, theatre bods and the original Calendar Girls.

Their names have been changed for the show.

Anna-Jane Casey, playing leading lady Annie, hails from Lancashire but now lives in Faversham in Kent.

She said: "If you don't like musicals or you don't like the music, this is a great one to come to, because it's not jazz hands and high kicks, it's true, real moments.

"By the time we come down the the Marlowe Theatre, I would have been in Faversham six months. So it will be my nice, comfy place.

"Faversham is beautiful, and we always wanted to move to Kent.

"It's such a gorgeous theatre."

Ruth Madoc, famous for her work in Hi-de-Hi, is no stranger to the story, having already taken the play of the same name to Canterbury. But TV presenter and writer Fern Britton will be making her return to stage after 30 years, in the role of Marie: "I don't know if a natural progression [from my other work] but I think it's all about not being scared.

"I'm ready for change. I'm ready for a challenge.

"There's a song in the show called 'Dare' - and it's all about daring to taking a leap into the unknown so that's what I'm doing."

She also said she's looking forward to bring the show to Kent early on in the tour: "My husband is a Folkestone boy born and bred and his parents are still there so we come as often as we can and it's a beautiful place.

"Canterbury is gorgeous, so to spent time there I'm really looking forward to."

The cast of the 2018 UK tour of Calendar Girls (1935401)
The cast of the 2018 UK tour of Calendar Girls (1935401)

The tour opens at the Leeds Grand Theatre on August 16.

The women have raised to date almost £5 million pound for charity, and Bloodwise, the UK's specialist blood cancer charity, will continue to receive monies from this production.

Tricia Stewart was the brains behind the idea in real life: "The whole thing helps raise money for research, so it's fantastic that it's continued.

"We've got quite used to it now and it's a part of our lives now.

"We didn't do it as an empowerment thing. We thought it would be really funny! I didn't think I was changing the image of the W.I. or anything, and we didn't think it would last this long.

"We thought it would cause a stir, but not this big of a stir. It's a big deal."

The show is directed by Matt Ryan and designed by Robert Jones, with lighting by Oliver Fenwick, comedy staging by Jos Houben, with movement by Lucy Hind and casting by Sarah Bird.

It also might not be the last we hear from the leading creative duo.

At the press conference, it was announced that there could be more musicals in the works, given the success of their show so far. Gary Barlow said: "I think we'd love to!"

Tim Firth said: "There's no point in stopping. It's a lot of work but if you're prepared to put in that work, then I tell you, standing at the back of that theatre when this is playing on any night is the best place to be."

Details

Calendar Girls the Musical comes to the Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury from September 5 to 15. To book tickets, visit their website or call their box office on 01227 787787.

The show will also head to Dartford's Orchard Theatre next year, from March 5 to 16 2019. To book tickets, visit their website or call their box office on 01322 220000.

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