I am a playwright, poet and actor. I live in the Blue Mountains in NSW. Visit my blog at simonlenthen.wordpress.com
Saucy Theatrical Fun
The Women's Institute in Yorkshire is very much like the CWA is here in Australia; a place where country women meet and discuss the more feminine arts of flower arranging, cake baking and knitting. However, this is all very boring to the women of the Knapely branch of the Women's Institute who have other things on their minds.
Annie Clarke's husband has leukaemia, and the first act covers the effect this disease has on Annie and her friends. In order to raise funds to provide a more comfortable settee at the local hospital, Annie's best friend, Chris, decides to convince her fellow branch members to pose naked for the annual calendar. The first act culminates in a rollicking and saucy calendar shoot, done with great taste and sensitivity; you feel like a welcome observer of an intimate event.
The second act deals with the impact the publication of the calendar has on the women and their relationships with each other. During this act, dramatic moments reveal the stories these women hold, including a single mother whose father was the local vicar, a trophy-wife looking for acceptance, and a former teacher facing the trials of growing older; a quiet counterpoint to the raucousness of the first act.
The acting by the main characters is good. Both Annabel Cotton as Annie Clark, and Wendy Morton as Chris, provide depth to their roles as their friendship is tested against the turmoil of disease and the changes brought on by the publication of the calendar. The supporting cast shine wonderfully, especially Christine Firkin as the vicar's daughter, and Sandy Velini as the former teacher. Melanie Robinson also provides a convincing transformation as Ruth, who is too generous to everyone else but herself. Donna Sizer provides a funny performance as Celia and she works her cupcakes to uproarious effect!
Melanie Robinson, Sandy Velini, Annabel Cotton, Donna Sizer, and Christine Firkin. Photo taken by Chris Lundie
The rest of the cast do a great job, the men are good foils for the main ensemble of women. Mark O'Conner's photographer provides the right reserved balance to the calendar shoot scene, Nick Bolton as Annie's husband serves well as a linchpin of the story line.
The direction is good, although the pacing sometimes flags. I put this down to first night wrinkles. Belinda Clark's direction of the first act builds well and whilst the first act takes some time to find its feet, it all comes together in a very joyous calendar shoot, which is the standout scene of the evening. I get the feeling that the cast are enjoying themselves immensely as they help their friends disrobe and pose for the camera. The set design is practical and portrays the hall where the Women's Institute meets. I would however prefer to see better use of the stage in distinguishing between settings that occur inside and outside the hall.
The production is not without its faults. Two things stand out. Firstly, the sound over the theatre speakers was very loud. In one poignant scene, the sudden burst of sound ruined the atmosphere of that scene quite remarkably. Finally, the use of the fire door to stage right was very distracting and I feel the entrances and exits could have been smoother with a second door built into the set. But if you overlook these faults, you can immerse yourself in a funny and touching portrayal of women finding the bravery to face the challenges that doing something different can bring.
In addition to enjoying the evening, you will also be helping to raise money for the Arrow Bone Marrow Transplant Foundation as a portion of the ticket sales is being donated to that charity. And there is an actual cast calendar for 2014, the proceeds also going to that charity.
I encourage you to go and see Calendar Girls. The season runs from October 11 – 19 at the Zenith Theatre in Chatswood. Tickets cost $38 for adults and $32 for concession with generous discounts for groups of 10 or more. This excludes any booking fees. The play is produced by The Epicentre Theatre Company, and written by Tim Firth. It is produced under arrangement with OriGin Theatrical on behalf of Samuel French Ltd.