Sara Hammerton has very kindly reviewed Calendar Girls:
“The play is MUCH better than the film” claimed Janet Middleton when proposing to direct Calendar Girls.
In March we found out why. To begin with, it is definitely funnier. There are lots of brilliant one-liners in the script, such as Celia’s “It’s not the golf I mind, it’s the bags I have to play it with” or Jessie’s defiant “I’m off to score some crack”, when fed up with being treated as a weak-minded geriatric by a youthful beautician. There were too many more to mention, and the audience lapped them up, laughing every time.
The characterisation is much stronger in the stage version too, and here credit goes to Janet and co. for the casting. The “Calendar Girls” were a very mixed bunch, and the choice of actresses reflected this.
Admittedly there were plenty to choose from, because women turned up in their droves for the auditions.
Perhaps they would have been less keen had they realised they would be taking their kit off during what was possibly the coldest week of the year.
Iona Hamilton’s choice of costumes served to further illustrate their personalities, with the mousey Ruth (Boff Muir) wearing boring beige and grey shapeless clothes, while Celia’s (Deborah Griffith) clothes emphasised her assets by dint of being about two sizes too small each time. Chris (Claire Harris, who fitted the part to a T) had a mini halter-neck Christmas outfit that no Santa has ever been seen in, and Marie was always very chic and just a tad too smart for every occasion. Her Barbie-pink sports bag with matching sweatband was a treat. While Clémence Robin’s little white number summed up her personality in a glance.
It wasn’t all laughs – there were inevitably sad moments too. Roísín Dore as Annie evinced raw emotion during her argument with Chris, crying out that she’d give back all the money raised for just one more hour with John.
All the Calendar Girls played their roles well, as did the comically snobbish Marie (Ailsa Higgins), while Joanna Patrick gave excellent performances in her two cameo roles as boring WI speaker Brenda Hulse and the extremely posh Lady Cavendish. And let’s not forget the men. One very memorable moment was provided by Graham Vincent as John Clarke, ill and out of breath in his wheelchair in a very touching and convincing scene. Equally convincing was young Jordan Craig, giving a very mature performance as the photographer Lawrence who battled with nerves before his professional skills took over to photograph women old enough to be his mother (or grandmother…). Philip Rowe hit the right note as Chris’s adoring husband Rod, while Craig Simpson was a suitably crass and sleazy TV advertising director.
The key photography scene was a masterpiece of choreography. It was slickly done, with each woman genuinely stripping off while revealing nothing too shocking, thanks to clever timing and of course the props they hid behind. If the actresses were nervous they didn’t show it (except when scripted). All of them performed with aplomb, and each “take” was warmly applauded by the audience.
The production was a clear illustration of how much team effort is required to put on a show. Colma O’Luanaigh’s aforementioned props were almost a star in their own right. They included, notably, a “MUM” funeral wreath, a giant cake stand for the enormous buns to hide Celia’s assets, and the hilarious craft projects by over-eager Ruth, including her model of “West Life” (having misheard the title: “Still Life on the Theme of Autumn”).
Most of the play takes place in the town hall – and the entire set had to be prepared in the warehouse then transported to and built onto the stage of the Beaux Arts Studio theatre. Again a reminder of the amount of teamwork involved. Visits to John’s hill were achieved quickly and simply by folding the two outside flats – on rollers – inwards to show the hillside painted on the reverse.
And then there was the music. The film doesn’t make you want to sing along, but the play certainly does. Anna Holmén, playing Cora, provided the strong lead voice for Jerusalem, often having to sing it solo, but joined in the finale by a very tuneful rendition from all the Calendar Girls. “And did those feet in ancient times….”
Finally, let’s not forget that this story is about cancer, and raising money for charity. True to the spirit of the original Calendar Girls, Janet Middleton wanted to raise as much as possible for Fondation contre le Cancer. If anyone wishes to make further donations to this good cause, please go to their website (http://www.cancer.be).