THIS dazzling and emotional performance of the musical written by Tim Firth and Gary Barlow was the first amateur production allowed after the successful inaugural professional tour.

Not surprising as the original Calendar Girls all come from the villages around Grassington and have been deeply involved in local life, including The Players. So the show has “come home”.

Whilst the group seldom produces musicals many of the cast are seasoned musical theatre performers. Under the inspirational direction of Anita Adams and the sensitive musical direction of Michael Gilroy they gave the sell-out houses on seven nights a mix of scintillating entertainment and a sensitive portrayal of the true story of a family and friends fighting “that sly, conniving, silent bloody disease of cancer”, losing a much loved and respected husband and friend but emerging to create a calendar which was to bring a smile to millions, capture the heart of much of the world and raise approaching £6m for Blood Cancer UK.

The cast, mainly from Grassington but supported by players from Settle, Ilkley and Skipton, were quite simply stunning.

Front of house staff were told on several occasions that the performance exceeded the quality of some of the professional performances – perhaps not surprising as in this locality there is a very real personal knowledge of the characters involved, some of whom were in the audience.

There was no weak link. Every actor, whether in a main or supporting role, contributed to the polished performance by a mixture of fine characterisation, concentration, and energy.

All combined musicality with sensitivity and there were some great dance routines too. The ages of the actors spanned 60 years and youth and mature years contributed richness and authenticity to the performance.

Jane Ellison- Bates reprised her portrayal of Annie from the play in 2012. Jane has an exceptionally beautiful voice and is a very talented actress. Her performance was faultless. She and David Newall, who played John, gave us a warming but heart-rending picture of their characters’ love for one another. David’s performance was sensitively under-stated and was the bedrock of the first act.

Penny Hart-Woods played the dynamic and determined Chris with electrifying energy and her cabaret style numbers were rapturously received by the audience. Paula Vickers, playing Cora, brings an immense experience of all forms of theatre. Her character, steely and slightly wild, was colourfully portrayed.

Jenny Scott’s involvement in theatre covers 60 years. Her (mostly) quiet characterisation of the oldest of the “girls” was masterful and very touching, but also showed Jessie’s determination to make sure the calendar was produced when the younger members were getting cold feet.

Sam Harrison trained as a professional ballet dancer – and it showed. Her dance celebrating Celia’s decision when an air hostess to get a bit of “body upgrade” was one of the high points of the show. Very amusing and it showcased Sam’s lovely singing voice too.

Finally there was Rachel Warren who the group “borrowed” from Ilkley Players. She played the troubled Ruth and her song “My Russian Friend and I”, as she downed a bottle of Vodka, was a stunning and very moving piece of virtuoso acting.

There were two particularly important non singing parts. Andrea Clay gave us a totally believable rendition of a rather annoying and officious committee chairman. Mark Bamforth, whose real life mum is the original Miss January, played the husband of Chris with warmth and a twinkle in his eye. As always a master class in characterisation.

It is often a challenge for amateur groups to fill younger roles. Not so here. Lottie Cuerden as the rebellious teenager Jenny imprinted on us a strong character from her first entrance and gave a wholly believable characterisation, lifted to an especially high plain in her fabulous singing. The two schoolboys were played convincingly by Jack Fitzsimmons and Theo Francis.

Space prevents me talking about other actors by name, but their skill and professionalism was evident throughout the show. Many have impressive theatrical CV’s and they helped to ensure the audience would remain spellbound from start to finish and give a standing ovation each night.

For someone who hates backing tracks in the theatre I was thrilled to see a live band. The professional musicians, some of whom live or were brought up in Grassington, contributed greatly to the wow factor of this production.

Mary Wilkinson as Producer and David Pye as Stage Manager played vital roles to ensure success and clearly had worked immensely hard, alongside the full production team, literally behind the scenes.

As the Players approach their centenary in 2023 this production will go down as an important and wonderfully received milestone. Congratulations to all involved – including the unsung heroes who, year in year out, make Amateur Theatre the force it is around the country.