Calendar Girls

‘Calendar Girls’ is an extremely popular play by Tim Firth; it can be seen at The Rockingham Castle theatre, 8 Attwood Way in Rockingham each Friday and Saturday evening at 8.00 pm until the 24thApril. This two and a quarter hour show has matinée on Sunday 11th and again on 18th April at 2.00 pm.

Tim Firth, who was born at Frodsham near Liverpool, is still in his 50s. With an English degree from Cambridge, he received dialogue writing advice from playwright Willy Russell.

After decades connected with this fine theatre, the Heckingbottoms have moved away from the area and actor Rob Walker has taken over as President. Following a year of no productions due to Covid, Rob’s first task was to move the theatre’s hundreds of costumes from their store several kilometres away, to a new storage area adjacent to the theatre. All the best Rob.

The Scene:          Evening inside a church hall in the Yorkshire Dales’ village of Knapely.

The Set: Was designed by Rob Walker. The interior of an old fibro-built hall has white walls, with chocolate brown coloured skirting, dado rail, a serving hatch and double entry doors. Below the dado, the walls are a pale mushroom colour. The doors on the rear wall led to a passage with a large photo of the Queen on the wall. There is a piano and stool in the corner. On the apron, left side of the proscenium arch are scenes of the grassy rolling hills of the Yorkshire dales; fine artwork as background – sorry, not credited.

The convincing set was constructed by Rob Walker, Kim Smith and Danny Joyce.

Properties:          An extensive list of unique props, supplied by Sue Lawson and daughter Michelle. They were of high quality and must have taken weeks to source or make. Well done.

Sound designed and operated by Ian Brown. Well recorded.

Lighting design included several passages lit by a spotlight. Smooth work by Jackie Hiscox.

Stage manager Sue Lawson, with her crew of Michelle Lawson and Travis Adams, worked quickly and efficiently.

In the church hall, the ladies of the Women’s Institute are finishing their Tai Chi class led by Chris (Michelle Smith), whilst Cora (Libby Söderholm) is left to sing the organisation’s opening anthem ‘Jerusalem’ alone.

The ladies take their seats and await the arrival of their most boring guest speaker ever, Brenda (cast 1 – Kathy Doherty, cast 2 – Claudia Wells); her annual visit has been organised – yet again – by fastidious Chapter chairperson, Marie (Helen Brown). During the meeting, Annie (Miranda Santalucia) is updating her friends with the progress of John (Jon Sayer), her 54-year-old extremely sick husband. Their visits to the hospital involve long periods sitting on plastic chairs, so best friends Chris and her husband, Rod (Danny Joyce) suggest that they raise money for a settee for the hospital waiting room.

Marie is keen to have a change from the usual plum jam and sponge cake competitions, with the same old judge – the supercilious, Lady Cravenshire (Cecelia Scott) – and instead, wants to sell a calendar with beautiful photos of Wharfedale bridges. Chris utters ‘Boring’ and suggests a spicy calendar of photos produced by, and of, the girls of their Chapter.

Young attractive Celia (cast 1 – Emma Del Pino, cast 2 – Carys Ferrier) is keen on the calendar idea, as is their older member Jessie (Sharyn McCaskey); however, it was not until they explained to the vicar’s daughter, Cora that they meant nude photos that the panic started. Ruth (Kirsty Rosenberg) said she had misunderstood and refused to strip.

Annie discovers that one of the hospital porters, shy Lawrence (cast 1 – Peter Shaw, cast 2 – Callon Leam), was a keen and very capable photographer so he was ‘volunteered’. Ruth found a professional makeup girl, Elaine (Bronte Born) who was renowned for her generous free help.

The girls had to face the National Conference of this staid organisation and put forward their case. Then, to their horror, another photographer, Liam (Sam Taylor) arrived to take promotional pictures.

The unusual wardrobe was created by Sam Taylor, Travis Adams and cast; from smart black gowns to unusual sunflower tri-kinis!

The experienced director, Alison Gibson, had so many new potential actors audition for this production that she bigheartedly decided to give everyone a chance, by having two ‘blended’ casts for this play. I think that the Rockingham Theatre Group were blown away by the rush of keen new actors. Directing a show can be difficult at any time, but with a relatively inexperienced cast for a play with so many different moods and emotions being called for, could Alison guide the cast through the play? Absolutely.

The play called for partial nudity – or should that be nakedness? – We have all walked in on someone starkers whilst getting changed and come away possibly more embarrassed than the person we saw. For the main scenes of this show to work the cast needed to appear nervous at the right time but to be self-assured, perhaps a little brazen, for the well-obscured nude scenes. The director and the bold actors, most the wrong (?) side of 50, ensured that the production was professional and not smutty. The audience laughed out loud and even your 90 yrs. old granny would have smiled and been totally unoffended.

The widow (Miranda Santalucia) gave a couple of very moving monologues that was well backed by the reaction of her friends. There were characters keen to do the calendar and others not; their conflict was convincing. Each personality was beautifully written and performed, as little snippets of their past became revealed.

This show with its new and enthusiastic team gave us a warm, hilarious – but at times sad, romp delivered with great pace. The show has almost sold out as the Covid 75% limit on seating is still on.

At present with Covid restrictions, many theatres are lucky to cover their production costs, as their prices are calculated on the usual full houses. The tickets for this show are unallotted – first in get the best seats. As a one-off, why not buy an extra ‘banned’ seat as a generous donation on your next theatre visit?

Congratulations to all concerned on a fun, light-hearted, feelgood production.