Recently, I had the pleasure of reviewing The Haunting (by Hugh James) for Theatre People. Using the ghost stories of Charles Dickens as its launching pad, the two – hander starring Cameron Daddo and Gig Clarke, was an immersive and atmospheric night out.

So, when I heard that its creative team, Prince Moo Productions, would be staging Calendar Girls, my expectations were very high indeed.

Based on a fascinating yet true story, this engaging ensemble piece authored by Tim Firth, presents broad comedy and poignant drama in equally measured doses.

Two long-time friends, Annie (Abi Richardson) and Chris (Jenny Seedsman), provide the play’s central focus. When Annie’s husband, John (John Voce), dies of leukaemia, the pair set about raising funds to replace the local hospital’s worn – out waiting room couch. How they do this, gives Calendar Girls its driving, motivational hook.

First made as a film in 2003 starring Helen Mirren and Julie Walters, Calendar Girls was subsequently turned into both a play (in 2009), as well as a musical (in 2016).

In 2010, Calendar Girls made its professional Australian debut. Operating as an extensive tour, that run dotted regional and urban New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Victoria, and Western Australia.

Based on Friday’s opening night audience at Collins Street’s Athenaeum Theatre, Calendar Girls will appeal to a wide demographic. Further, this show will particularly endear lovers of A Different Way Home, Billy Elliot, Educating Rita, Kinky Boots, Shirley Valentine, Stepping Out, and The Full Monty.

The common link being, each internationally – popular work celebrates the quiet lives and human spirit of everyday people. Viewers instantly connected with these real and relatable characters, as they surely will with Calendar Girls’ linear, yet multi – faceted journey.

Without giving too much away, each protagonist is pushed to their limit over the course of the show. Classes clash and inhibitions crumble, along with friendships and relationships being tested, too.

Like The Haunted, there is tremendous attention to detail on both a technical and performance level.

Directed by Peter J. Snee, he allows the episodic story to develop at a clear yet comfortable pace. The two hour running time, brings each character their moment in the sun. For better and for worse, this is a transformative experience across the board.

The delightfully fearless group react and interact with legitimate charm and realism. They could be our friends, neighbours, or loved ones.

Richardson injects Annie with stoic calm. Meanwhile, Seedsman’s Chris, rediscovers aspects of herself which have been lying dormant for years. The pair are joined by a rag – tag crew, including Tottie Goldsmith’s sexy Celia, Lulu McClatchy’s bumbling Ruth, Francesca Waters’ spirited Jessie, and Kate Gorman’s determined Cora.

Fiona Stewart (Lady Cravenshire / Brenda Hulse), Lise Rogers (Marie), John Voce (John), Sid Brisbane (Rod), Johnathan Peck (Lawrence), Vincent Hooper (Liam), and Jennifer Dean (Elaine) round out the excellent supporting cast.
Imperative to its English setting, it should be noted that vocal coaching was provided by Dr. Geraldine Cook – Dafner.

Rhiannon Irving’s costumes both inform the players and the audience, as well as providing many instances of cheeky humour. The Christmas sequence in particular is a standout.

Her vision works in perfect tandem with John Kerr’s props, and illusion design. Kerr is also responsible for the neat and stylised, yet highly functional set. It immediately establishes the play’s community tone, supporting the narrative as needed.

Jason Bovaird’s atmospheric lighting creates defined transitions between scenes, as well as providing a solid sense of time and place. Kyle Evans sound design is crisp and clear, while Tanje Ruddick’s stage management keeps proceedings smooth and seamless, too.

Charming and saucy as it is real, Calendar Girls plays for a strictly – limited season until Saturday October 7. Catch it while you can.