Calendar Girls – Review – Leeds Grand Theatre
Calendar Girls – Review
Leeds Grand Theatre, March 2012
by Charlotte Scott
Calendar Girls is the famous story of an incredible group of friends. They meet at their local English Women’s Institute every week in the small fictional village of Knapeley in the Yorkshire Dales. They persuade each other to pose for a charity calendar in the nude. Their aim is to raise money – and provide a new sofa – for the waiting area in the hospital where Annie’s husband, John, is treated before he passes away from cancer at the early age of 52.
This true story is adapted for the stage by Tim Firth. He uses the screenplay from his smash hit film. It follows the journey of the six women as their nude calendar goes further than they could ever have imagined. The original print run of 3,000 sold out in just days. Their amateur photographs are taken by hospital porter Lawrence (Kevin Sacre) and featuring in newspapers across the globe. Efforts by the Real Calendar Girls have now raised a staggering £3 million for the Leukaemia and Lymphoma research fund.
Directed by Jack Ryder, the latest Calendar Girls line up features many familiar faces. Faces often seen in the nation’s favourite television programmes and soap operas. All are well placed to play the down to earth – yet hugely spirited – group of women. Linda Bellingham, as Chris, holds the play together brilliantly, yet performances by all the women are strong and sincere.
“The simplicity allows you to focus on the characters”
Jan Watson as Jessie is hilarious; delivering her lines with a ferocious bluntness – when considering her decision to pose nude she says: “Ok… but no front bottoms!” Perhaps the most comical scene is the making of the calendar, the women passing around a bottle of vodka for Dutch courage, before posing in the nude behind strategically placed buns, flowers and knitting yarns.
The set, appropriately, resembles a church hall complete with an “old school” Kemble piano and vintage tables and chairs; this is all surrounded by the backdrop of Yorkshire’s rolling hills, much like the green pastures sung about in the ladies’ favourite hymn ‘Jerusalem’. Its simplicity allows you to focus on the most important part of the play – the characters – and to concentrate on the relationships between the six women.
The play also promises to provide a few tears and, after a decade in the spotlight and a sell out West End show, Calendar Girls does not disappoint tonight. During this final professional stage adaptation, sitting above us in the dress circle of Leeds Grand theatre, were the Real Calendar Girls who, I hope, appreciated this performance as much as I did.