Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Calendar Girls, Sept 29, 2017 ***

Written by Tim Firth, by Prince Moo Productions
At Athenaeum Theatre until Oct 7, 2017 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Review also published in Herald Sun Arts online on Mon Oct 3 and later in print. (Tues Oct 4?). KH
Lulu McClatchy & Jenny Seedsman
Six middle-aged women doing a nude photo-shoot for the Women’s Institute (WI) calendar is the hilarious high point of Calendar Girls by Tim Firth.

In this production directed by Peter J Snee, the crowd goes wild when these self-conscious women pose with their private bits obscured only by their baked goods and craftwork.

Curvaceous Ruth (Lulu McClatchy) reclines amidst oranges and marmalade jars, wiry Jessie (Francesca Waters) poses pertly with skeins of wool, sassy trophy wife, Celia (Tottie Goldsmith) peeps from behind discreetly placed buns and single mum, Cora (Kate Gorman), turns coyly at her piano.

The instigators of this alternative calendar are mischievous Chris (Jenny Seedsman) and her more sedate friend, Annie (Abi Richardson), whose husband John’s (John Voce) death from leukaemia triggers the pair’s plan to raise funds for the hospital that nursed him.

Set in Yorkshire and based on the true story of the astoundingly successful, 1999 WI nude calendar, the play tracks the calendar’s evolution, Annie and Chris’s struggle to gain the support of their stroppy president, Marie (Lise Rodgers), and the national WI, and the personal clashes that arise when the calendar achieves worldwide popularity and fame outstrips charity.

Snee’s production may have its high point in the nude photo-shoot at the end of Act One, but the earlier scenes feel static, with slow cueing and some awkward, stand-and-deliver dialogue.

Firth’s narrative balances warmth with poignancy, although the dialogue gets a bit twee or preachy at times and it is a pity that the important, final scene, when the women visit John’s memorial, sunflower fields on the Yorkshire dales, falls flat.

The performances are good-humoured with McClatchy’s cutely naive Ruth a comic highlight while Waters’ feisty, retired schoolteacher is refreshingly wicked.

The real WI nude calendar has raised over $8 million to date and, in a week when Playboy magnate Hugh Hefner died, it is fun to compare the impact of the cheerful, charitable WI nude calendar with the nudie centrefolds that it parodied.

By Kate Herbert

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