Theatre Review: Calendar Girls at The Civic

By Paul Simei-Barton

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It is inspiring to see people summon up the courage to risk humiliation by baring it all. Photo / Michael Smith
It is inspiring to see people summon up the courage to risk humiliation by baring it all. Photo / Michael Smith

The Auckland Theatre Company should be fairly confident it has hit on a winner with a production that might be described as Coronation Street meets The Girls of the Playboy Mansion.

The story is closely based on a real community fundraising project that was dreamed up by a branch of the Yorkshire Women's Institute. The resulting phenomenon raised millions for cancer research as well as spawning an enormously successful feature film and stage show.

All of which demonstrates that the best marketing ideas come from enthusiastic amateurs rather than cynical advertising executives.

Tim Firth's script follows a time-honoured recipe for a classic British comedy: Start with a solid base of eccentric silliness, throw in the old nudge-and-a-wink double entendre, stir it up by taking the mickey out of the upper classes, add Chaucerian slap and tickle bawdiness and season with deliberate naughtiness.

On a deeper level, the humour enables us to vicariously overcome our fear of social embarrassment and it is inspiring to see ordinary folk summoning up the courage to risk humiliation by baring it all.

The show features ATC's trademark devotion to quality design. Rachael Walker's set lovingly re-creates an English community hall, Nic Smillie's costumes cleverly underscore the characters' diverse personalities and John Gibson's music delicately accentuates the shifting emotions of the piece.

The script provides abundant opportunities for actors of a certain age and the superb cast has enormous fun breathing life into the sharply drawn characters.

Rima Te Wiata is hugely entertaining as she hams it up with an oversized plum in her mouth as the WI president, and later her squeaky, sing-song voice is a perfect fit for the home-wrecking beauty therapist.

Hera Dunleavy is particularly empathetic as she reveals the understated heroism of a character who struggles with chronic timidity before facing down her anxiety.

Theresa Healey and Jennifer Ludlum anchor the show with a nuanced portrayal of female friendship and the large ensemble capture the engaging dynamic of women getting together to "go nuts".

What: Calendar Girls.

Where: The Civic

When: Until Saturday.

- NZ Herald

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