Calendar Girls

‘Calendar Girls’ was adapted for the stage by Wirral born playwright, Tim Firth. After reading English at Cambridge, Tim went to one of Willy Russell’s Arvon Foundation courses in West Yorkshire. He later met Alan Ayckbourn and was commissioned to write a play.

With the photos taken by Terry Logan, a professional photographer married to one of the models, the 2000 WI calendar was released in April 1999. By Christmas, it had sold 88,000 copies raising half a million pounds. The proceeds were used to fund new laboratories in Leeds University, specifically for lymphoma and leukaemia research.

The script of this production seemed to have quite a few differences to the previous versions that I have seen, with more humour. You can see this very funny and bold 135-minute production at The Limelight Theatre, Civic Drive, Wanneroo.

Evening shows commence at 8.00 pm on Thursday, Friday and Saturday until the 17th August, there are no matinees.

The set is the interior of an old fibro building, with plain walls and a serving hatch. There is a piano in the corner. At each side of the proscenium arch are scenes of the rolling hills of the Yorkshire dales. During the show, the rear wall splits to reveal an even bigger, stunning panorama – all the artwork of Ursula Kotara.

It is evening in the Yorkshire Dales’ village of Knapely. In the church hall, the ladies of the Women’s Institute, led by Chris (Gwen Browning) are finishing their Tai Chi class, whilst Cora (Loz Haynes) is left to sing the organisation’s anthem ‘Jerusalem’ alone. They are awaiting the arrival of Brenda (Susie Benson-Parry), possibly their most boring guest speaker ever, her visit being organised by finicky Marie (Helen Tudge).

During the meeting, Annie (Johanne Brigham) is updating her friends with the progress of John, her 54-year-old very sick husband (Richard Tudge).

The visits to the hospital involve long periods sitting on plastic chairs, so Chris and her husband, Rod (David Browning), suggest that they raise money for a settee for the 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 (Nadine Sampson) – and instead 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.

Voluptuous Celia (Michelle Varley) is keen on the calendar idea, as is their older member Jessie (Sue Mainwaring); however, it was not until they explained to the vicar’s daughter, Cora that they meant nude photos that the panic started. Ruth (Clare Fazackerley Wood) said she had misunderstood and refused to strip.

Annie found that one of the hospital porters, shy Lawrence (Emerson Brophy), was a keen and capable photographer so he was ‘volunteered’. Ruth found a professional makeup girl, Elaine (Nadine Sampson) 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 (Justin Vallow) arrived to take promotional pictures.

With a cast, dare I guess at an average age of around 50 and of all different figures, a great deal of credit must be given for them possibly having even more courage and pluck than the original calendar ladies, who were only photographed. This cast has a tremendous laisse-faire attitude, getting down to the nitty-gritty and showing the audience what fun the original group must have had in the process. The audience were extremely supportive, giving a good round of applause with each ‘scenario’ and joining in the fun. At the interval the comments about courage were pouring forth, some spoken with a little jealousy by people who wish that they had had the chance and pluck.

The director, Robert Benson-Parry, helped the whole show flow naturally, with no shocks or crude titillations – just good family humour. The girls delivered the jokes and the team spirit beautifully. There is a sad scene, which is handled very well with dimmed lights and a slow exit. Johanne Brigham gave a most wonderfully moving speech as she broke down in her friend’s arms.

The techs, Alan Brock and Alaric Korb captured the feel of the situation perfectly. The final set dressing – on the hill – was spectacular and must have taken days to prepare. Congratulations to Polly Waugh, Justin Vallow, Paul Bassham and Carryn McLean on their fine work.

A fine production that captured all of the emotions from sadness to hilarity with skill. The audience loved it. A fun night in a theatre that was fully booked with only the odd ticket returned.