Calendar Girls

7 July 2022

Calendar Girls

The death of a much loved husband prompts a group of ordinary women in a small Yorkshire Women’s Institute to do an extraordinary thing. Blasting away all preconceptions of what it is to be in a women’s institute, they decide to do an artistic nude calendar to raise money for charity.

Upturning preconceptions is a dangerous business and none of them expect the emotional and personal ramifications, but gradually the making of the fabulous and funny calendar brings each woman unexpectedly into flower.

The true story of the Calendar Girls launched a global phenomenon, a million copycat calendars, a record breaking movie, stage play and musical written by Tim Firth and Gary Barlow which coined the term “craughing” – the act of crying and laughing at the same time. With unforgettable songs, every performance continues to add to the millions already raised for charity and also proves that there is no such thing as an ordinary woman.

Calendar Girls Review by Noda

Society: St Peter Players
Production: Calendar Girls
Date: 8th July 2022
Report By: Judith Watsham

Thank you inviting me to see this production – we in the audience were so hot and I really felt sorry for the cast under the lights, more so when they had to wear thick clothes for the Christmas scene. 

Putting on a musical like this on a comparatively small stage is always a challenge and all members of the cast, crew and production team rose to this one magnificently.  From the simple set, designed by Tina Barclay, Ruth Corner and Jenny Evans to the props it all worked magnificently- well done to you all.  The gate was a nice touch as it gave another exit/entrance to the moors and the perspective worked well. 

Props, down to a team of six, all worked well – the cake and flower stands were excellent, and the props devised for the photographic session were all very good.  Congratulations to you all.  Incidentally the cracker was magnificent, Tina and team!  I loved the drinks with the lights, most effective. 

The 3 backdrops, a nice one of the Yorkshire Dales, a superb draw cloth depicting the Village Hall (the perspectives on this one were particularly effective) to a plain grey draw cloth for the WI National AGM, it all worked seamlessly.  Credit was given in the programme for painting the cloths to Jenny Evans – I did try and find out if Jenny painted both and was the only painter but I was unsuccessful so apologies to anyone else who may have been involved, or even a hire company if you used one.  

Adrian Sutcliffe, your MD and indefatigable pianist, was accompanied by Liam McCloud on drums.  I know that this show is scored for more musicians, but this was sufficient given the size of your venue. 

The sound, under the control of Peter Heaps, worked well with hanging rifle mikes – 6 I think plus the extra mike on a stand which was required for a couple of songs set in either the hospital or Ruth’s home – just about covered all the vocal work. 

Lights were good and appropriate at all times so well done Les Brewer. 

I want to congratulate Amelia Savage on the makeup which, despite the extreme heat which had the audience wilting at times, never ran!  One small niggle though, John’s bald cap did not really work as it shone under the lights and looked bulky with his hair clearly outlined underneath – also you could clearly see a dark line across his forehead, probably largely due to heat!  Would it have been better to have had him without a hat before his treatment and then give him a beanie to wear afterwards?   

Costumes – well Ruth Corner and Liz Peskin did their usual excellent job.  I particularly liked the men’s white shirts and yellow ties in the finale which complemented the ladies’ black dresses very well. 

Jason Congerton’s programme included Paul Upward’s cast photographs, notably the centre spread of the WI ladies suitably undressed for the calendar.  I think this is the first time you have tackled the programme Jason, so well done on getting the NODA criteria right!  One or typos crept in however!  I am sure it is Miss Wilson, not Mrs in the script, for example, as they are referred to as sisters.  

Ruth Corner’s direction was as sure as ever – not an easy show as you have to find a cast who are prepared to bare all – even if not that much is seen!  Ruth, you had some of the action – minor scenes admittedly – take place on the auditorium floor in front of the stage.  Unfortunately, I had two tall people in front of me and my view was blocked.  I know it is difficult to manage this, but did you consider building a raised dais?  However, when the cast initially entered and stood at the sides singing Jerusalem, we could all see them quite well, so this aspect did work. 

Your direction of the photography session was excellent as it needs superb timing from everyone involved from the cast to the timing of the photos themselves. 

Now – the cast.  Your programme notes show that some of you have a lot more experience than others in the world of ‘The Musical’ but you all rose to the occasion and sang well and tunefully which is not always the case when an amateur group turns its heart and mind to putting on a musical!  In your case, of course, you do tend to give your audiences shows which cover an eclectic mix of plays, musicals and pantomimes as well as revues/music halls/compilation shows so you are not, as are many, wedded to just one genre.  I feel that you are very fortunate in having access to such a talented pool of performers as we saw on stage in Calendar Girls.  All the cast maintained what, to my ear, were very good accents.  It is possible, of course, that a native of the Yorkshire Dales might not agree with me, but the accents were well maintained in the vocals as well as spoken dialogue. 

Lizzie Glover just WAS Annie, one minute a happily married woman, the next a grieving widow.  You were always in character and your facial expressions mirrored what Annie was feeling very well.   Your singing voice was excellent, as is to be expected of course, given your experience of performing with other local amateur companies. 

Tamsin Grayling gave us a very believable Chris – you may think you were performing out of your comfort zone Tamsin, but you were excellent, both acting and singing.   

Ex-airhostess Celia was portrayed by Anita Rollingson with great aplomb – confident singing and acting at all times, and your expressions, especially in the ‘baring all’ scene for the vital photograph, were excellent. 

The two Miss Wilsons (Tea and Coffee) were particularly brave in this respect – showing us their back views with only an apron tie in the way of clothes so well acted Yvonne Tobutt and Cathy Davidoff.  I noticed that you and some of the rest of the cast helped out on the stage crew side in character as appropriate and this worked; I am sure it made SM Jenny Evans’ life easier as you were so well rehearsed that changes went smoothly.   

Another actress who deserves similar credit for a flaunted backview is Imogen Osborne when seated at the piano.  Imogen, playing Cora, was totally in character all the time and your comedy timing was excellent.  I know I have seen you perform with other companies, Imogen, and you have never given an audience anything other than an absolutely spot on characterisation. 

Tina Barclay’s Ruth was another excellent characterisation, especially your solo number My Russian Friend and I, culminating as it did in a superb drunk scene! 

Wendy Graham had the difficult role of Marie, WI Chair and mother of a rebellious teen.  You put over your disapproval very well Wendy, especially as I suspect it is not your normal character.  

Retired teacher, Jessie, was well sung and acted by Elizabeth Peskin.  Your number What Age Expects was heartfelt and your throwaway line to Lawrence was masterly. 

The part of John, Annie’s husband, was well, and believably played by Steve Turner.  You had the somewhat difficult job of singing the opening number Yorkshire which you put over with great conviction. 

Jason Congerton took the role of Rod – Jason you displayed a very good accent and excellent facial expressions and were totally believably as Chris’s husband – but you need to watch your projection especially when either speaking upstage or side stage   

Nick Lansdowne made an excellent Lawrence, a tad nerdy, diffident and excruciatingly embarrassed when confronted with so many middle aged, unclad beauties.  You put over Laurence’s character very well and are to be congratulated.  I am also aware that you took this part after rehearsals were well underway when someone else had to drop out.  I would never have known that you had fewer rehearsals than the rest of the cast! 

The three teenagers all looked the part – although I am quite sure you all left your schooldays behind some time ago!  John Montgomery was Danny; Tommo was played by Ashley Baker and Anna Silcocks took on the role of Jenny.  You all got teenage mannerisms and angst off to a T.  Well done.  

Barbara James doubled the small roles of Brenda and Lady Cravenshire.  A good contrast between the characters Barbara with two very different accents. 

Last, but by no means least, are Haydn Davis who played Denis, and Alvin Cohen, Colin, both of you, helped out with the scene changes – always a vital role.  Haydn and Alvin played two of the husbands of the WI members, always supportive of course.  Both of you reacted well to events with good expressions and reactions to the unfolding story. 

All in all a most enjoyable evening and you all managed to move the audience to both tears and laughter.  I noticed that the audience gave you a standing ovation, well deserved but personally I don’t like this trend because it means those who are later standing, or indeed cannot stand easily, miss a lot of the Finale! 

Judith Watsham 

Districts 11 and 11A Rep NODA London