Adapted from the movie of the same name, Calendar Girls is based on the true story of some feisty older ladies who did a nude calendar to raise money for cancer research.
John Frost/David Pugh & Dafydd Rogers LtdTheatre Royal, Sydney Friday, 30 April, 2010
Adapted from the movie of the same name, Calendar Girls is based on the true story of some feisty older ladies who did a nude calendar to raise money for cancer research. Although the cast is excellent, this story doesn’t quite sustain itself in the transition from celluloid to stage.
There’s an all-star cast for the Australian version of this successful English production: You’ll never look at The Sullivans the same way again after seeing Lorraine Bayly as provocative granny Jessie. As a part of a Yorkshire branch of the Women’s Institute, Jessie’s mates Cora (Rachel Berger), Chris (Amanda Muggleton), Celia (Rhonda Burchmore), Ruth (Jean Kittson) rally around recently bereaved Annie (Anna Lee).
Having lost her husband to Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, Annie wants to raise some money to help out the local hospital. Risking the disapproval of their president Marie (Cornelia Frances), the ladies decide that some nudity (not nakedness!) might be the answer. Once they enlist a hapless young male photographer to their cause, the idea for a saucy calendar gradually takes shape.
Calendar Girls works best as a piece of light-hearted fluff. The characters and situations are all pretty familiar, but the entertainment comes from how these actors interpret their characters. Kittson is particularly entertaining, starting out with the personality of an obedient Labrador who gradually realises she has teeth. Burchmore is also raucously good, although it’s a bit of a stretch to accept her as being in any way shy about her body.
The photo shoot is the highlight of the evening – an energetic, rapid-fire series of poses involving strategically placed cream buns and flower arrangements. But this sense of fun and energy rapidly dissipates after intermission, when personality clashes suddenly come to the fore. Suddenly bogged down by accusations of selfishness, slutiness and a brief foray into inappropriate student-teacher relationships, Calendar Girls feels like two different plays. The relative lightness of the first half isn’t enough to sustain the melodrama of the second. Director Psyche Stott does a fine job with the uneven material, but the awkward design and somewhat clunky set changes are a bit of a distraction.
Having said all that, the audience seemed to enjoy the zaniness and onstage camaraderie. As a light-hearted look at ageing and female friendship, Calendar Girls is a nice bit of old-fashioned entertainment.
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Until 23 May 2010