Calendar Girls
By Tim Firth
Octagon Theatre
Director Jane Barr

Calendar Girls shows Octagon Theatre's enthusiasm for taking on difficult tasks and an understanding of what its audience enjoys.

The story is about a Women's Institute group which raises funds for a couch at a cancer unit in memory of one of the member's husband.

They agree, one humorously reluctantly, to pose nude in a raunchier - ''but tasteful'' - version than usual of their annual fundraising calendar.

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The traditional Yorkshire country scenes just won't cut it.

The resulting calendar of the six brave dears is a phenomenal success.

At that point their various motives and unhappy stories are also exposed.

The experienced cast gave delightful, gutsy performances.

Sally Leftly (widowed Annie) and Lila Lusher (bolshy Chris) effectively portrayed the chemistry of good women friends, while Julia Alabaster played goody-goody but unhappy Ruth to the tee.

Ruth Coulton as rebellious vicar's daughter Cora, Cara Schagan (new-money Celia), Cynthia Cahill (cynical retired teacher Jessie) and Jean Millington (stick to the rules Marie, W.I chairwoman) did fine jobs.

Supporting cast Michael Tor, Geoff Bartlett, Gemma Arman, Cal Lovell and Quinn Smith also gave credible performances.

Young Smith might have been encouraged to change the delivery style of one his two characters, but full marks to his own unblinking courage.

The set is a simple, unadorned "village hall"; the staging enhanced by excellent lighting, sound, wardrobe and a clever array of props.

Calendar Girls has many acts, meaning a lot of coming and going on stage, and set changes resulting in a few pauses.

Director Jane Barr did an accomplished job of balancing those acts but some judicial cropping could have helped shorten - without diminishing - a long, busy play.

All round, the Octagon shows what it's made of in a production possibly bolder than many because of the nudity factor.

That cleverly handled, brave act, outstanding among the play's many other parts, really marks Calendar Girls as a valiant production.

Opened November 17, closes December 3. For times and tickets www.octagontheatre.nz