Denise Welch & Re­becca Storm

Nancy Pre­vis talks to Denise Welch and Re­becca Storm, the stars of Cal­en­dar Girls the Mu­si­cal, who are on their way to Dublin

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Nancy Pre­vis chats to two of the stars of Cal­en­dar Girls the Mu­si­cal, as the hit show makes its much an­tic­i­pated de­but in Ire­land

Gary Bar­low and Tim Firth’s show, Cal­en­dar Girls the Mu­si­cal, has been tour­ing the UK since last Au­gust and at ev­ery venue the re­ac­tion has been the same: ev­ery­one on their feet at the nal note, chant­ing for more. “We’re 130 shows in and we’ve had 130 stand­ing ova­tions!” says Denise Welch, who plays Celia. “It’s a big suc­cess.”

I’m sit­ting with two of the show’s stars, Denise Welch, ac­tor and broad­caster (she played Corona­tion Street’s Natalie Barnes and re­cently re­turned to the Loose Women panel) and veteran mu­si­cal per­former Re­becca Storm. e pair has just ar­rived at RTÉ for a chat ahead of the show’s two-week run in Dublin.

Denise says that Cal­en­dar Girls will be her rst time work­ing in Dublin. “And”, Re­becca re­minds her, “the show is also the rst time the two of us have worked to­gether.” ey then show o their Ir­ish con­nec­tions. Re­becca and her hus­band Kenny set up home in Co Kil­dare many years ago, while Denise can trace her Ir­ish lin­eage to a granny, also from Co Kil­dare. “Ar­riv­ing in Dublin last night just made me think,” she says, “I re­ally am go­ing to try and be a good tourist when I’m here with the show. I would love to go down to see where Granny was from.”

Many peo­ple will know both the Cal­en­dar Girls lm and the play based on it. In 2015, Gary Bar­low and Tim Firth (who are old school friends) re-imag­ined it as a mu­si­cal. e story is still based on the real-life mem­bers of the York­shire Women’s In­sti­tute (WI) who posed for an ex­tra­or­di­nary char­ity cal­en­dar in 1999.

“It’s a play,” Denise ex­plains, “with mu­sic, as op­posed to a mu­si­cal in the tra­di­tional sense. Some­times mu­si­cals can have a imsy sto­ry­line and then these fabulous num­bers that peo­ple burst into. With Cal­en­dar Girls e Mu­si­cal, the mu­sic en­hances the words.”

Re­becca Storm is much loved by Ir­ish au­di­ences for her por­trayal of Mrs John­stone in Blood Broth­ers (a role she’s played for more than three decades). She is also the lead in Cal­en­dar Girls, play­ing Chris, the char­ac­ter based on Tr­isha Ste­wart, the real York­shire wo­man who rst came up with the idea of do­ing the cal­en­dar.

“We’ve met Tr­isha many times and she’s a feisty no-non­sense wo­man…she takes no pris­on­ers,” Re­becca says with re­spect. “Tr­isha was ac­tu­ally the one who talked the other WI gals into pos­ing for the pho­tos. In the show, they’re ob­vi­ously not naked but it’s all to do with com­edy and how their bits are cov­ered up,” laughs Re­becca.

For the mu­si­cal, drama­tist Tim Firth has es­hed out the piv­otal char­ac­ter of Chris. “She’s feisty but there are two or three sides to Chris. So when Chris’s 17-year-old son is sud­denly dis­gusted with his mother for com­ing up with the idea for the cal­en­dar, we see her vul­ner­a­ble side. It’s quite a tough role for me,” re­veals Re­becca. “Although the char­ac­ters are fun­da­men­tally based on the true story, ob­vi­ously there is dra­matic li­cence as well, and all with the ap­proval of the orig­i­nal cal­en­dar girls. So when they come and tell us that this is one of their favourite pro­duc­tions of the story – from the lm to the play to now – it’s a mas­sive com­pli­ment,” adds Denise.

For Re­becca, play­ing Chris has been a sur­pris­ing event in her ca­reer. “Well, I’m 61 now, and I never thought I would go out on a tour like this, ever. I’d vir­tu­ally packed it in. I au­di­tioned rst for pro­ducer David Pugh, next for Tim, and nally for Gary – lit­er­ally three

au­di­tions in the space of a month, which wasn’t the eas­i­est ex­pe­ri­ence in my life but yet it was one of the most re­ward­ing, I love the part!” she sighs, slip­ping off her heels and re­lax­ing back into the sofa. The shoes are her char­ac­ter’s – she shows me the inside of one, with her name writ­ten on a strip of tape. “I don’t nor­mally have my name in my shoes!” she laughs.

Denise is thrilled with her char­ac­ter, de­scrib­ing the sparky Celia, as “a bit of an amal­gam of sev­eral of the women. She’s an ex­air host­ess who wanted to get away from her York­shire vil­lage be­cause she felt there was a big­ger world out­side, but who, like many of us, in­clud­ing my­self, re­alises as she gets older that all she ever wanted was on her doorstep back at home. That is very much where I am in my life. “Celia is mar­ried to De­nis, who is a mem­ber of a golf club, and she’s try­ing to con­form. She’s wear­ing but­ton-up dresses but ac­tu­ally wants to let it all hang out be­cause that’s who she re­ally is, and with that comes a lot of hu­mour, but,” Denise is quick to point out, “there’s never any­thing bawdy about this show. The pho­to­shoot for the cal­en­dar is part of a de­vel­op­ing story of em­pow­er­ing older women and I think that is one of the best things that has come out of the show’s suc­cess. Women our age feel in­vis­i­ble a lot of the time, but Cal­en­dar Girls the Mu­si­cal ac­tu­ally cel­e­brates older women. You must be an older wo­man to be in this show.”

“And,” adds Re­becca, “each of the girls is a com­pletely dif­fer­ent char­ac­ter, so there’s never a dull mo­ment. It’s a laugh a minute.”

Denise will play Celia un­til Au­gust, while Re­becca will be tour­ing with the show for longer – at least through 2019 – but she isn’t lonely for fam­ily. “Kenny is in the show’s band on dou­ble bass, and lit­tle Charlie, our King Charles spaniel, is on tour with us too.”

Re­becca says she’s re­ally look­ing for­ward to per­form­ing in Dublin again. “I’m re­ally proud that I’ve been in shows like Blood Broth­ers that Dublin has loved and I gen­uinely can­not wait to ex­pe­ri­ence the Dublin re­ac­tion to this one.”

Cal­en­dar Girls the Mu­si­cal makes its Ir­ish pre­miere in the Bord Gáis En­ergy The­atre from Jan­uary 22 to Fe­bru­ary 2

““It’s a play with mu­sic, as op­posed to a mu­si­cal in the tra­di­tional sense

The Cal­en­dar Girls cast with writ­ers Tim Firth and Gary Bar­low

Dress re­hearsal

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