Review: Calendar Girls - Street Theatre
EVER since last September, when I saw the first Calendar Girls on stage, I have been unconvinced by it as a play.
Tim Firth created the theatrical version from his smash hit film, based on the actions of a group of WI members from Yorkshire who stripped off for a calendar to raise money to buy a settee for a cancer ward, in memory of one of their husbands.
The film had not only big stars (Julie Walters, Helen Mirren and Linda Basset among them) but all the money for outdoor filming and even a trip to Hollywood.
On stage the setting is confined to a very ordinary village hall, with a nod to the Dales accomplished by a backdrop and a bit of yellow lighting to indicate the important sunflowers.
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And most of the six productions I have seen, with their plethora of short scenes, have been an awkward rush to the stripping off scene that ends the first half, and then a relieved stroll through the rest.
At Strode Theatre in Street this week, Street Theatre (apologies for the confusing names) has found a cast and a director who have got to the heart of the story and found a way to make this version work as a play, giving enough time for the tale to unfold, and enough weight to each of the characters.
The result is a heartrending, hilarious and satisfying evening that has no trace of the anxiety and expectation among audience (and sometimes cast) that have spoiled some other productions.
Of course it is brave for amateur performers to get their kit off in front of family, friends, neighbours and local business-people. But Lois Harbinson’s cast lose any personal inhibitions by immersing themselves in the characters they play, teaching some of the professional actors on the national tour a thing or two along the way.
The exceptional cast is headed by the remarkable Olwen Herridge, whose subtle, multi-faceted performance as Annie brings the audience to tears, with Karen Trevis as the ebullient Chris and John McGrouther giving quite the best performance I have seen (on stage or film) as the dying John.
Elaine Morgan manages a wonderful transition from mimsy and feeble downtrodden wife to feisty would-be African explorer, and Nick Barlow is a convincing Lawrence (as was the set up for his photograpy session).
There’s not a weak link in this cast, but I can’t encourage you to go to see the show, which continues until Saturday. It’s returns only.