Arts Arts Editor Muse Interviews

Theatre Review: Calendar Girls: The Musical, and interview with cast member Izzie Norwood

Cara Lee reviews Calendar Girls: the Musical and speaks to cast member Izzie Norwood, a student at the University of York.

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Image Credit: Kirkpatrick Photography

The latest show to grace York’s already thriving theatre scene is Calendar Girls: the Musical, currently showing at the Grand Opera House.  The play follows a Women’s Institute group in a remote town in Yorkshire, depicting their efforts to raise money after the death of one of the members’ much-loved husband. To raise money for a memorial sofa for the hospital he was looked after in, the group decide to do something slightly unconventional – make a nude calendar.

Calendar Girls originated as a movie, but is based on a true story. The stage play was written by Tim Firth and Take That’s Gary Barlow, and the performance opens with the unforgettable (and very singable) “Yorkshire”, with the cast of York Stage all taking the stage, introducing us to the story to unfold.

York Stage is a York-based theatre company made up of local and professional performers and production staff, including the University of York’s very own Izzie Norwood, who played Jenny in this production of Calendar Girls. The company has produced numerous musicals and plays for York, under the direction of Nik Briggs.

I was lucky enough to catch up with Izzie, who told me more about her theatre career, her Calendar Girls character, and keeping positive in the industry.

Please introduce yourself a little bit!

Hello! I’m Izzie Norwood, a third year Film & Television Production Student at the University of York. I came to York in 2019, and since then I’ve been involved with numerous performance-based societies such as Central Hall Musical Society (CHMS), as well as media groups, including York Student Television and University Radio York. As I do both Film & TV and Musical Theatre, I wanted to study somewhere which encompassed both of my hobbies – and York was perfect, with a practical TV production course, and societies which suited my performance-based interests.

How did you first get into theatre and acting?

I started out doing Shakespeare plays in high school; my school didn’t do musicals (which absolutely broke my heart!), so I got into musical theatre by joining a weekly performance group. I never had the opportunity to do large-scale productions until coming to York, hence why I’ve thrown myself into every opportunity I possibly can here!

I’ve had a very rocky journey with musical theatre, but have always persevered. I auditioned five times to perform at Disneyland Paris in 2019, and was lucky enough to get the job fifth time. I spent the summer playing some pretty iconic characters! Since then, I’ve auditioned for show after show; of course there’s plenty of rejections, but my mindset has remained the same – I just want to do more of what I love!

I’m the sort of person who will happily play ‘tree number 57’ if it means I get to be involved, so that attitude has definitely helped me to stay positive.

Could you introduce your character in Calendar Girls?  How do you feel about Jenny?  Did you relate to her, or hate her?

I’ve recently had the pleasure of working with York Stage, performing in their production of Calendar Girls in The Grand Opera House, directed by Nik Briggs. York Stage is such a fabulous company, and I highly recommend coming to see one of our performances if you get the chance! I play Jenny, who is the daughter of the Knapely Women’s Institute’s chair, Marie (Maggie Smales). Marie is extremely eloquent, and is very protective of her beloved WI. Jenny, on the other hand, is the polar opposite. She’s a sassy, rebellious schoolgirl, something which I definitely couldn’t relate to in school, but LOVE playing now. Jenny has a budding romance with fellow year 11 student Danny (Sam Roberts), who is extremely awkward and nervous around girls - this dynamic is so funny to watch, as poor Danny makes various unsuccessful attempts to woo her.

What has been your favourite part of being involved in Calendar Girls?

The cast and crew of Calendar Girls are an absolute joy. I’ve genuinely made friends for life, and I couldn’t be more grateful for the opportunity I’ve had to work with them. I didn’t actually audition for Calendar Girls; I was undertaking drama school auditions this year when I approached Nik for a singing lesson. Whilst I thought I was just getting help with my audition pieces, he handed me some of the Calendar Girls script to read. Next thing I knew, I was in my first rehearsal! It’s one of the best things I could’ve asked for, and the perfect way to end my time in York.

How are you finding balancing university and career opportunities?

Alongside my university studies and shows, I also work freelance as a television runner, for broadcasters such as BBC2, Sky Kids and NBC. This is something I’m eager to keep up, and will hopefully provide me with some opportunities to support myself financially whilst living in London next year!

It all takes a lot of time planning, so when I seek out TV opportunities, I’m always sure to make them aware of any show dates I have coming up, to ensure I can work around them. I’ve definitely found it challenging at times to keep up with uni work, however I’m so passionate about taking up opportunities that I always do what I can to make things work.

Last term was a huge challenge for me; I was performing in 9 to 5 with Central Hall Musical Society, still working as Assistant Station Manager of University Radio York, doing my drama school auditions and writing my dissertation proposal! I’m not much of a dancer, so auditions really took over my life – I was stretching for a good few hours a day, but luckily it paid off in the end!

You’re part of YSTV – has this helped you in your acting career?  What would you say to anyone who’s thinking about joining student media, but isn’t quite sure?

York Student Television and University Radio York have helped me in ways I could never imagine. I’m a busy, sociable person, so I really struggled throughout lockdown to feel motivated. I threw myself into YSTV and URY, becoming Secretary and Assistant Station Manager respectively, and I loved every second. I’ve done lots of TV presenting which has helped me massively with confidence, hosting the YUSU Elections in 2021, York Fight Night, this year’s Freshers’ Festival and more! Experiences like this were so valuable in helping me secure my first couple of TV jobs, but also gave me the opportunity to gain practical experience, where my course was unable to do so during the pandemic. I hosted two weekly radio shows, one of which was musical-theatre themed, and combining my passion for theatre with my love of presenting was an absolute blast.

Anyone thinking about joining student media should absolutely do so; there’s no pressure to be on the committee.  URY is great in the sense that you can just make radio shows and that’s it! YSTV is slightly more structured as people tend to sign up on their calendar for existing productions, for roles such as camera operators or presenters. The best part about these societies is that they are genuinely the most welcoming places to be - my best piece of advice is not to be put off by the fear of struggling to make friends.  Everyone is so lovely, and we all value each other so much.

If you could be in any play or musical, what would it be and why?

I would LOVE to be in Legally Blonde. I love shows that are upbeat, feel-good musicals, and I’ve never come out of a theatre with a bigger smile than I did after watching CHMS’s production of Legally Blonde in 2019. This was before I started at York, and little did I know, I was watching some of my future best friends shine on stage.

What advice would you give to anyone trying to find their feet in theatre and acting?

KEEP GOING! I have had so many rejections, battles and tough times trying to get into the industry. It’s so easy to look at someone’s social media and think everything’s smooth sailing - people will have thousands of unsuccessful auditions for every successful one, and the most important thing is to identify areas for improvement, work on them, and go back stronger than before.

I’m so thankful to be going to Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts this year to study a Master’s Degree in Musical Theatre, something which I never thought I would be able to achieve. I’m very aware of my strengths and weaknesses as a performer, but the main thing is to be determined enough to work hard and improve. Hopefully a year of training will help me with that!

Calendar Girls was full of witty one-liners, excellent songs, heartbreak, friendship and joy; my personal stand-out moment was Cora’s (Rosy Rowley) rendition of a medley of Christmas songs, in “Who Wants a Silent Night?”, but the whole show was special and memorable.  Everybody knows the vague outline of Calendar Girls, but getting to know the story and characters, and see it in a different way, was very interesting.

The show’s climax came in the comically directed photoshoot scene.  I wasn’t quite sure how this was going to be choreographed, so I didn’t know what to expect – but without giving away too many spoilers, conveniently placed reflectors and cakes featured heavily!  Although a sad story at times, Calendar Girls was funny and a joy to watch, and now, having seen the musical, I can’t wait to watch the film again!

Nouse would like to extend their thanks to York Grand Opera House and Izzie Norwood.

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