Whanganui Amdram: Calendar Girls
Reviewed by Craig Cleveland
Whanganui Amdram’s latest production Calendar Girls is a must-see.
Tim Firth’s hilarious yet touching stage show, an adaption from the 2003 film he co-wrote with Juliette Towhidi, is based on a true story where 11 Women’s Institute members in the UK famously produced an alternative calendar to raise funds for leukaemia research in 1999. The play is set in Knapely in the Yorkshire Dales in the late 1990s.
When Annie’s husband John is diagnosed with, and ultimately dies from, leukaemia, she and long-standing best friend Chris resolve to raise money for a new sofa for the local hospital’s cancer ward waiting room. They persuade four friends and fellow Women’s Institute members to be part of the project and create an alternative calendar - much to the horror of local branch chair Marie.
Through the show’s director, Helen Watson, Whanganui Amdram has again mastered the art of small theatre productions.
The use of the whole auditorium as the stage lets the audience become part of the show. Her choice of cast and her direction of them illustrates the outstanding depth of talent within the whole cast. Leads and support roles alike make the show really pop. Their diction, projection and character portrayal are excellent. It is obvious they enjoy acting alongside each other.
The lighting is simple but effective, the sound is good and the set is minimal throughout the theatre. Costuming is well thought-out and complimentary to each character. As to the use of props, these are used to maximum effect to ensure there are no bits peeking out that shouldn’t be - especially in the photo shoot scene, where the transition from clothed to unclothed is done in full stage light but with absolute decorum - and laughter.
This is a truly professional performance by everyone involved. Well done, Helen.
It is hard to single out any one actor but special mention must be made of Jacqui Hughes and Geoff Campbell who play husband and wife, Annie and John. Their on-stage bond is well portrayed as they progress through their journey together coping with John’s leukaemia and ultimate death. This journey that many of our families face is beautifully done with a subtlety that is powerful and emotional. Their work sets the tone for the rest of the show.
The other characters are diverse in nature and backgrounds.
The calendar pin-ups are Chris (Christine Sutcliffe), Annie’s best friend, with a strong personality, a natural leader, confident and not afraid to stand her ground; Cora (Rosie Rendell), a solo mother, church organist and minister’s daughter; Jessie (Noeleen Voice) the retired school teacher; Ruth (Erika Crombie) the nervous housewife with little confidence who just wants to please everybody; and Celia (Annette Jackson) the Porsche-driving, confident city girl who has moved to the village. They all deliver strong performances portraying their characters’ personalities and frailties.
Marie (Louise Sparks), the WI branch chair, a Hyacinth Bucket-type character, is well played. The supporting cast all play their roles extremely well.
The show moves quickly and has a good flow.
Act one finishes with a “flash” of action, clever use of props and a lot of laughter from the audience. Act two continues the pace of the show and, as in the first act, poignant moments are complemented with humour to help let the message sink in. This is a funny, moving, well-directed and executed production. The whole audience enjoyed the show and I quote one patron’s comments to me at the intermission: “That show’s fantastic! I haven’t been to an Amdram show for years. It’s just brilliant.”
I agree - this show is a must-see. Well done cast and crew, well done director Helen Watson, well done Whanganui Amdram - another winner.
* Calendar Girls is on at Amdram’s Guyton St theatre until December 16.