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CALENDAR GIRLS. A true story by Tim Firth. Directed by Wendy Goddard. Assistant to director Kyla Thorburn. Set Wendy Goddard. Lighting Gary Fargher. Presented by the Claremont Dramatic Society. At the Masque Theatre until November 24. SHEILA CHISHOLM reviews.
KNAPELEY Women’s Institute is more associated with practising tai chi on Yorkshire Hills, baking cakes and hosting monthly meetings singing Parry’s anthem Jerusalem than posing for a fund-raising calendar. But that’s what six Women’s Institute women did when John (John Carne), horticulturist husband to Annie (Fiona Carling), was diagnosed with leukaemia requiring chemotherapy. They decided to raise £580 to replace the hospital’s uncomfy visitors’ lounge settee.
As Chris, Jo Frater enthusiastically draws her Women’s Institute friends into her plan … a calendar with them posing “not naked, but nude”. It’s a daring scheme and she’s not a natural pushy fund-raiser. Rather it’s her belief that this is “the way to go for John” that drives her even – for a while – alienating Annie and Rod, her husband (a blustering Brian Notcutt).
In a sincere performance, Carling’s Annie passed through the gamut of emotions many wives would feel when learning their husbands are terminally ill.
Over a six-month period, most action takes place in Knapeley’s dreary church hall, during which dramatist Tim Frith sensitively offsets character trait differences of the players.
Cora’s (Melissa Sanderson) cheerful ability to play piano hid her hurt that her daughter had run away to find an unknown father. As former school teacher Jessie, Jane Cohen’s bespeckled, somewhat drab appearance, belied her spunk and willingness to discard her clothing … for charity. Frith allocated her some amusing lines, but Cohen’s too-soft Yorkshire accent often lost the punch.
Bright personality Lesley Gill, as sexy golfer Celia, had no inhibitions about exposing herself. It was Ruth (Kirsty Cunnington) whose timidity and reluctance almost scuppered the venture, while Rudy Gibbons made the most of his role as embarrassed photographer Lawrence.
Into this arena came Allison Blair as delightfully bossy Marie - chairman of the Women’s Institute. And in cameo parts were Brenda (Kim R2) whose “boring” lecture (thankfully) got aborted; Lynn Moss as “posh” Lady Cravenshire; make-up expert Elaine (Jennifer Moss) and Liam (Barrie Howard) as “twee” organiser for an unscheduled nude press photo-call for the sextet.
On stage nudity isn’t rare. Nudity at the Masque is. But director Wendy Goddard, assistant director Kyla Thorburn and the women did themselves proud as they comically manipulated dressing gowns and table-cloths before exposing themselves in tasteful nude poses.
Sunflowers were John’s passion, and the Calendar Girls successful calendar led to sunflowers becoming the international symbol for leukaemia research fund-raising projects.
Do see this well-directed and acted, heart-warming story.
l To book and confirm performance days, call 021 788 1898.