Epicentre Theatre Company in their current production CALENDAR GIRLS explode onto the stage in a very funny, yet extremely moving production. Belinda Clark the director has a very strong cast and they all give very strong performances. The script is witty and incisive and the story told with great poignancy and humour.
Readers might have seen the film version or the stage version at the Theatre Royal in 2010.The plot, if you don’t know already, is developed from real life events: the making of a ‘nude’ calendar by members of a Yorkshire Women’s Institute which became a huge seller in 1999 and raised – and continues to raise, in part thanks to this play – truckloads of money for cancer research and the local hospital . There is much discussion about ‘Nude’ vs ‘Naked’ and is It Art ? ( ‘‘ Naked’ involves detail whereas ‘nudity’ rather suggests ‘). Some of the other issues raised in the play include aging, feminism , love, loss and friendship , and also that of selling oneself short for commercialization , albeit for an extremely good cause – how far do/should you go ? As retired school teacher Jessie ( Sandy Velini) says ‘ the worst thing about age is what you think age expects of you’ and ‘ I have never had a problem with age, my dear, it has had a problem with me’.
A mixed group of women – who we learn are variously retired, lonely frustrated, bored searching and all bonded by their dislike for their snobby chairwoman Marie – rally around the grieving Annie (Annabel Cotton), who has lost her husband to leukaemia. Characterization throughout is terrific .There are some very witty one liners , lots of laughs and some excellent , at times rather startling monologues . For the Easter section Melanie Robinson as Ruth dressed as the Easter Bunny is very funny . Chris, the rather outgoing ringleader seduced by media attention and succumbing to the commercialisation is wonderfully played by Wendy Morton . She is great friends with Annie (Annabel Cotton ) . We see their major spat in Act 2 yet their friendship is reforged by the end of the show .Ruth ( Melanie Robinson) is generally rather quiet but turns once she discover the confidence to confront the make up girl Elaine who had an affair with her husband. Celia is a stunning long legged ‘ hot ‘party animal brazenly, lusciously performed by Donna Sizer in a sizzling, magnetic performance . ( what a naughty, stunning Santa’s helper! )
The actual photo shoot at the end of Act 1 , somewhat abridged , is hilarious and very well done , dressing gowns coyly discarded among the tea cakes, iced buns, flowers and vegetables . While claiming to be outrageous the women still manage to be cautious yet flirtatious . Changing is done very discreetly behind photographic light shields and/or drapes and the posing is dramatically, tastefully done . Laughing Dona Sizer as Celia delectably juggles her appendages behind the iced buns with cherry nipples. Christine Firkin as Cora at the piano discreetly gives us an upper torso rear view while Melanie Robinson’s nervous,breathless yet determined Ruth lies enchantingly among a large tub of oranges. The audience absolutely loved it.
The climatic speech that opens the second half – the appeal to the WI – is very well done , and we are the WI audience. There are some cameo appearances by Carol Keeble as frightfully elegant ,delightfully snobbish Lady Carvenshire and Mark O’Connor is excellent as Lawrence the photographer in Act 1 . As John, Annie’s husband who has leukaemia, Nick Bolton gives a very powerful and moving performance beautifully , rather gently fading away .Liam in Act 2 is given a fine performance by almost unrecognizable Bolton and Tim Bate is very supportive as Rod .
The action is mostly located in the church functioning as a WI hall ( also used as a scouts hall , badminton court etc ) with some wonderful use of projections ( eg for the outdoor tai chi classes and the sunflower remembrance montage at the end ) .
There are some other great theatrically inspiring moments – for instance the sudden overhead fluttering arrival of the deluge of letters of support and encouragement . Also the use of the theme of the sunflowers and the huge sunflower field at the end.
In Act 2 we see the unexpected stiff battles between the friends at the Women’s Institute and wonder how they cope with their sudden , unexpected fame.Or in fact do they handle it well ?
A wickedly warm , inspirational and yet poignant show . 2014 Calendars are being sold to raise money for the Arrow Bone Marrow Transplant Foundation .
Running time 2 hours 30 (approx) including interval
CALENDAR GIRLS runs at the Zenith Theatre 11-196 October 2013