Written by Tim Firth, Calendar Girls is based on the true story of a group of Yorkshire women who posed nude for a calendar to raise funds the Leukaemia Research Fund. The intention was to raise enough money to purchase a new couch for the visitor’s lounge of the local hospital, following the death of John, husband to one of the women in the Women’s Institute group. However, the calendar proved to be a huge success and raised a significantly large sum of money for the charity. The story gained worldwide attention and ultimately was the basis for both a movie and play.The first half of act one starts off relatively slowly, introducing the audience to the characters, their personalities and stories, but the lack of energy in this opening of the play really sits with the script. Perhaps the biggest challenge is the limited time to really get to explore the story of each of the multiple characters and instead, the audience gets just a glimpse into the lives of each one rather than delving into any real depth. We learn quickly that John has cancer, the prognosis is poor, he passes away and the women decided to do something in his memory.
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There were a few stumbled lines on opening night, although quickly corrected, and at times sections of dialogue felt rushed. Some lines were either hard to hear from the back of the theatre or difficult to understand through accents and words being run quickly together, which unfortunately meant some points in the establishing stories were lost. This should improve as the cast settle into their roles.The “Calendar Girls” are well suited to their roles and all give solid and believable performances, making this a strong ensemble piece. Shani Williams as Annie, Christine Perkins as Chris, Amy Jenkins as Celia, Susana Grest as Ruth, Val Mitchelmore as Jessie and Fiona Carter as Cora are the “Calendar Girls” who decide to do a nude (not naked) photo shoot for the fund-raising calendar and it is the photo shoot scene where the play suddenly comes to life.
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With the appropriate placement of props, the women bare all for their nude shoot, leaving the audience in fits of laughter that continued through into interval. Josiah Hilbig is hilarious as the photographer given the task of capturing these images, and physically displays the awkwardness and apprehension no doubt being felt by the audience as we wondered just what (and how much!) we would be seeing next! The audience are kept entertained during each photo shoot set up, ensuring the necessary time to have the women in appropriate position passed quite quickly. Each of the calendar photo shoots was held long enough for the audience to fully appreciate the detail of each of the strategically placed props without the laughter subsiding. It all made for a thoroughly entertaining night of theatre and any flaws in the early part of the play were forgiven.
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Act two explores the “aftermath” of the calendar but doesn’t neatly tie up all the loose threads from the first act. However, the audience is left with a lovely warm glow and a touch of poignancy at the conclusion of the play.
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Rounding out the cast are Ann Quinn as Marie, Alison Warden as Lady Cravenshire, Robyn Fowler as Brenda, Dexter Bourke as Rod and Nadia Rankin as Elaine, while Chris Hodson gives a touching performance as John. Director John Mills has assembled an ideal cast, who all suit their characters perfectly.
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The set is quite minimal against 1812 Theatre standards, with use of projections as backdrops to create the scene. While this works well, there were some blackened scene changes that felt unnecessarily long, but will hopefully improve with further performances.
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Overall, this is another good production by the 1812 Theatre. Calendar Girls is entertaining, heartwarming, inspiring and … well, quite hilarious!
For more information and tickets: www.1812theatre.com.au