My family and I know first hand how unbelievably tough fighting Leukaemia is and as a Bloodwise Ambassador my husband, sister, brother in law and I were invited to a special showing of Tim Firth’s and Gary Barlow’s The Girls Musical at the Phoenix Theatre in London’s West End. Having heard lots of great things about the show I was more than pleased to go along. It certainly didn’t disappoint…it was hilarious, uplifting and an emotional roller coaster.
On arrival it was lovely to see the outside of the theatre adorned with Sunflowers which have now become the emblem for the Calendar Girls. The original ladies are never seen without wearing one and it has been adopted by many including the army of Gary Barlow fans who were waiting outside the theatre. For me and I’m sure others it now represents hope and light in what is often a dark time for people affected by blood cancer.
John Baker’s words…
“The flowers of Yorkshire are like the women of Yorkshire. Every stage of their growth has its own beauty, but the last phase is the most glorious. Wherever light is, no matter how weak, these flowers will find it and that’s an admirable thing. And such a life lesson.”
Which is why the Sunflower is now as much part of the Calendar Girls as the Calendar itself.
The Phoenix has quite a small auditorium and I wander if this added to the down to earth vibe of the show. Being so seemingly close all the ‘action’ certainly made me feel like I was part of something special. Or was it purely that I felt an affinity to the story as a Leukaemia survivor who has met the Calendar Girls a couple of times? Either way there’s no denying the reaction of other audience members and the standing ovation at the end so I’m not alone in loving it!
We all know what sparked off this amazing story, a family man, happily going about his day to day business was given the devastating news that he had blood cancer. John Baker was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma in 1998 and sadly passed away after just a few months treatment.
This story is not just about a group of women who sold lots of nude calendars. What really comes across in the musical is a community coming together and women overcoming various personal challenges with the aim to help others in their darkest hour. I feel nothing but admiration not only for the original ladies but also the actresses who were naked on stage. Lets face it none of us like to go to the local swimming pool in our swim costume, all our imperfections on display let alone on a very public Calendar or on a West End stage! I may have bravely endured the brutal treatment for Leukaemia but I think these ladies are very courageous.
Accompanied by shrieks of laughter the clever choreography and positioning of props made the photo shoot scene simply hilarious. It really felt like they were doing it for the first and only time as the original Calendar Girls did, not that they do this for every show! From the emotions conveyed by the cast I believed they were thoroughly enjoying every moment and they have a real empathy to the story. Perhaps this was due to their brilliant acting abilities and the language used by Tim Firth but still. The young actors were very impressive too and I’m sure I will be seeing a lot more of them in the future.
There were moments when I could really feel the pain of John’s battle yet also his passion for life and wonderful sense of humour. As I looked at those around me the tears were flowing but accompanied by smiles. From what I have read about John it would have been exactly how he would have liked it, he wouldn’t want anyone to be sad but you can’t ignore the fact that tragically he lost his battle too young with so much life to live.
The writing of Tim Firth and music of Gary Barlow illustrate this story perfectly, summing up the emotional roller coaster that was the birth of the Calendar Girls. As always Gary Barlow’s lyrics really moved me, in fact his ‘Rule The World’ track was played over and over by my husband on his way home from visiting me in hospital where I spent 6 months. The lyrics, especially ‘don’t leave me now’, ‘don’t fade away’ and ‘if you stay by my side we can rule the world’ particularly resonating.
The show stayed with me for days and I cannot stress how much you would take away from this show if you went to see it. A reminder of what is really important in life, friendship, support and in the darkest of times managing to find the light, no matter how dim and turning towards it. I too have had so much overwhelming support from my community in many ways, but no naked calendar…yet!
The show, I am sure, will appeal to anyone affected by any type of cancer, or who has experienced something positive after a tough time. John’s family have always been involved and during the whole process the producers and writers have respected their story. Another reason why this musical is so special, everyone has put their hearts into it and it really comes across when you watch it unfold.
When asked about The Girls Musical… “The musical is absolutely fantastic and John would have been so proud. As a family it helps us believe that he didn’t die in vain, that he’s been part of it and with us every step of the way. John would have wanted to help other people who get this terrible disease.” Angela Baker
Well placed props
Cast members with Gary Barlow & Tim Firth
Me with the Calendar Girls
I haven’t watched the film since I was very suddenly diagnosed with an aggressive Leukaemia with only hours to live I had 90% bone marrow failure. Not wanting to unleash all the emotions I keep under tight control. Often I think back to when it all originally started, the Calendar hitting the news, getting worldwide attention, the film. etc and I shiver at the thought that these incredible women, their families and friends would have a part in my future, yet at the time I had no idea what I would face. Thanks to their fundraising for Bloodwise, who’ve invested millions in life saving research there have been some major advances in blood cancer treatment and outcomes. Words are not enough to express how much this means to me and my family.