Review: Calendar Girls

There are laughs, hints of tears and plenty of good old entertainment to be had in this production, so treat yourself to a night out.

By

Presented by Matt Byrne Media
Reviewed Wednesday 17th October 2012

As remarkable as this story may seem, it is based in truth. In April 1999 a group of Rylstone and District Women's Institute members honoured the memory of the husband of one of their members by raising funds for leukaemia research through the sales of a nude calendar, for which they posed. Angela Baker’s husband, John, died from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma at the relatively young age of 54. They started raising money during his illness, with the intention of buying a new sofa for the waiting room at the hospital where he was treated. The ‘2000 Alternative WI Calendar’ actually had photos taken by Terry Logan, the husband of one of the women, Lynda Logan, Miss January.

Tricia Stewart, Angela Baker, Beryl Bamforth, Lynda Logan, Chris Clancy and Ros Fawcett are the six women portrayed in the film and the play, based on their story, but with most of their names changed as this is not a documentary, but a dramatisation with fictional elements. Angela becomes Annie, although John is retained as the name of her husband.

Director, Matt Byrne, gives a sensitive reading to Tim Firth’s script, balancing the pathos with humour and, in one scene, gales of hysterical laughter. He does not dwell, morbidly, on John’s failing health and final passing, treating the character with respect, and bringing out his sense of good humour. Byrne’s acute casting is responsible for much of the high quality of this production.

The play begins with Chris leading the others through a series of Tai Chi movements, while Cora plays the piano. It quickly becomes clear that Chris is improvising and has not even opened the book that she was supposed to have learned from, the movements getting progressively sillier. This first section introduces the women, their personalities, and their relationships, with Jessie, Ruth, and Celia making up the rest of the group. Eventually, each of them will feature in the calendar for one month, with them all together in Christmas mode for December.

Something is noticeably wrong from the very start, as this group accounts for only seven months, and a brief return to the true story reveals all. In spite of the generally warm and fuzzy story, as recounted here, there were acrimonious relations between the six we meet and the others, now known as The Rylstone Five. The six women set up the deal for the film to be made, without saying a word to the other five who had been in the calendar: Lynn Knowles, Miss March, Leni Pickles, Miss April, Moyra Livesey, Miss May, Sandra Sayers, Miss June, and Rita Turner, Miss August. A rift developed between the group led by Tricia Stewart, Miss October, and the group led by Moyra Livesy. In so doing, these six effectively wiped the other five from the history of the project, as though they had never existed, and denied them recognition for their equal contribution. The photographer was married to one of the Five, so he has also been wiped from the story.

There were many things that the Five were unhappy about, such as Trica Stewart giving a calendar to a tramp, then including the incident in her book, Calendar Girl; In Which A Lady Of Rylstone Reveals All, making herself look good, and the business that she and her husband set up, Calendar Girl Holidays Ltd. also angered others. There is a dark side to this feel-good tale.

Chris Bussey, as Annie, Tracey Korsten, as Chris, Mignone Siemer, as Jessie, Maggie Wood, as Ruth, Michelle Hutchinson, as Cora, and Cathie Oldfield, as Ruth, all give excellent performances as the central characters, creating entirely believable characters, and displaying a wide range of emotions. They also each manage to bring the house down with their respective poses for the photographer. They all do such a great job that it would be unfair to single any of them out for special mention. This is a very tight ensemble piece, and the give and take of focus is generously handled by the six performers.

Penni Hamilton-Smith plays Marie, who heads the WI group, and who the six keep in the dark until the calendar is a fait accompli, and Eleanor Boyd plays the duel roles of Brenda Hulse, a dotty old duck known for her very boring talks on pointless topics, who Marie insists on inflicting upon the members, and Lady Cravenshire, who Marie tries to impress, and whose social set she tries to ingratiate herself into. These three characters are rather overplayed and become caricatures, and the actors could afford to pull back into more three dimensional characters, which would make the humour work better and be in keeping with the style of the rest of the performances.

James McCluskey-Garcia plays John and gives a remarkably touching performance in the role, convincingly displaying John’s gradually failing health, juxtaposed against his cheery nature and refusal to let Annie be depressed. He also acted as musical director for the Chris’s happily alcoholic husband is played by Malcolm Walton who presents a very jovial man who is no doubt a serious party person. Marc Brown has the audience in fits of laughter as the stuttering and embarrassed photographer, Lawrence and James Seow gets his share of laughs as Liam, the highly ‘theatrical’ director of the TV commercial that Chris lines up for the women, without explaining exactly what they are expected to do. Carla Bonanni is spot on as the snobbish young make-up artist, who finds that she has been looking down her nose at the wrong person, getting her nose put out of joint for her impudence.

There are laughs, hints of tears and plenty of good old entertainment to be had in this production, so treat yourself to a night out, and buy some souvenirs to help out the Calendar Girls’ cancer research funding.

Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Arts Editor, Glam Adelaide.

Matt Byrne Media web site

Holden Street web site

Venue: Holden Street Theatres, 34 Holden Street, Hindmarsh
Season: to 3rd November 2012
Duration: 2hrs 30mins (incl. interval)
Tickets: Adults $25/Conc $20
Bookings: 8262 4906 or Venuetix here or Dramatix or here

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