Theatre Review: Calendar Girls

Six mature women from the Women’s Institute in the North of England have all experienced loss and so raise money for a settee in a nearby cancer ward.

Presented by St Jude’s Players
Reviewed 17 November 2016

Written by Tim Firth, and based on his screenplay for the film, Calendar Girls is less a play and more an entire movement. When the script was released for amateur production about three years ago, there was an attempt to break the world record for number of productions in a single year. I’m not sure if the record was broken, but the piece itself has found longevity through its charm, warmth, humour and, sadly unusual, female-dominated cast.

Director Brian Knott has assembled an excellent cast, with a nice mix of the highly experienced and the newer-to-theatre. Shelley Hampton and Joanne St Clair anchor the work beautifully as Chris and Annie, the lynchpins in the play. Lesley Reed, Deb Walsh, Maxine Grubel and Heather Riley complete the main ensemble, and each of these actors is to be applauded for some wonderful character work. The always watchable Lindy LeCornu is spot-on as Marie, and Patrick Gibson, Carol Hunter, Lindsay Dunn, Louisa Norman and Andrew Horwood, all put obvious energy and passion into their supporting roles. Lindsay Dunn deserves particular kudos for taking on the role of Rod, a week before opening. He looked as though he’d been there from day one.

However, the fabulous cast was badly let down by what can only be described as a horrendous set design. A ridiculous, raked floor, rendered most of the (already fairly small) stage unusable, forcing Knott to work his actors primarily on the apron, in a chorus line. As well as looking awful, this made most of the true ensemble work impossible. Seriously, a case of “What were they thinking???” Still, this sterling cast does its best.

There were some finely observed moments in Knott’s direction, and he seems to have allowed the cast the space they need to find their own level (pardon the pun…). Opening night did see some scene segues that dragged, or that happened too quickly. I’m sure he will even out the pace as the season progresses.

Calendar Girls is a truly wonderful night in the theatre. It is about friendship. It is about the beauty of older women. It is about community. This play will sell out (it almost always does!), so make haste while the sunflowers bloom.

Reviewed by Tracey Korsten

Venue: St Jude’s Hall, 444 Brighton Road, Brighton
Season: 17-19 and 23-26 November 2016 at 8pm
Tickets: $7 – $20

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