Thursday, October 18, 2012

Calendar Girls -Review- West End Operatic Society

Calendar Girls  
17th October 2012

I'm sure everyone is aware of the story of Calendar Girls – the calendar that changed public awareness of the WI. After the death of one of their husbands to cancer, a rebellious group of WIers in Yorkshire go against tradition with an alternative calendar, to raise funds for a new sofa in the visitors room at the local hospital. Instead of the usual country scenes, the ladies decide to make a calendar with scenes depicting typical WI activities with one major difference…the lady in each scene is nude (not naked – there’s a difference!) The calendar is a runaway success, bringing fame to the little Yorkshire town and it’s WI ladies. Of course fame brings with it many things. As their fame grows, cracks begin to appear and friendships begin to take the strain, and for a while it looks as though the real reason for the calendar has been lost.

The set is very simple – a piano, some chairs and a table or two to represent the church hall where the WI meet each week. John’s Hill is portrayed with a picture projected onto the screen at the back of the stage. Very simple but very effective.

The characters are played with a great deal of warmth, revealing a group of women easy in their friendship, which makes the near breakdown in the relationships all the more poignant. High points for me were the most emotional scenes – John’s speech – started by him but finished by Annie (Danielle Mendes) and Chris (Andrea Atkinson), Chris rousing speech at the London Conference – delivered with determination and passion. I think my favourite character was Ruth (Melanie King). Her performance of the timid, neglected wife, who finds courage (in a vodka bottle) to pose for the calendar and later to confront her husband’s lover was a joy to watch.

There was evidence of some first night nerves. Some lines stumbled over, some (particularly in the photographic shoot scene) are spoken facing away from the audience and were not as clear as they could have been. I think hoever they could be forgiven those nerves. And this scene was very carefully and cleverly directed!

The play is touching and sad and very funny, (the guffaws from the women in the seats in front of us left us in no doubt of that). It celebrates life and friendship as John Baker (Chris Wagstaffe) celebrated it.

Calendar Girls runs till 20th October at the Royal Grammar School, Newcastle. It is well worth a visit. And while you are there you can buy a calendar…

Denise Sparrowhawk 

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