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Calendar Girls

Calendar Girls

Tim Firth

13 - 20 October 2012

Sandra Tomlinson

A group of WI members pose nude for a calendar to raise money for the Leukaemia Research Fund.


Performances

Sat 7:45pm, Mon 7:45pm, Tue 7:45pm, Wed 7:45pm, Thu 7:45pm, Fri 7:45pm, Sat 2:45pm, Sat 7:45pm

Synopsis

Calendar Girls is an extremely funny yet moving play based on the true story of a group of WI members who posed nude for a calendar to raise money for the Leukaemia Research Fund. Based on the Miramax motion picture, Calendar Girls opened at the Chichester Festival Theatre in 2008 and has since become the fastest selling play in British theatre history.

Director's Notes

Audiences are in for a treat. You can’t help but warm to and relate with the ‘real-life’ characters and situations that this play presents. I’m delighted to have such a strong cast for Calendar Girls, welcoming both old and new members.

When Annie’s husband John (David Morley) dies of leukaemia, she and best friend Chris (Jenny Lloyd Lyons and Avril Bell) resolve to raise money for a new settee in the local hospital waiting room. They manage to persuade four fellow Women’s Institute members, Cora, Celia, Ruth and Jessie, (Bekki Noone, Gini Comyns, Charlotte Tayler, Lizzie Hutcheson) to pose nude with them for an ‘alternative’ calendar, with a little help from hospital porter and amateur photographer Lawrence (Ben Gurney). The news of this innovative charitable venture spreads and proves to be a great success. Hordes of press soon descend on the small village of Knapeley in the Yorkshire Dales. Other members of the cast include Miles Jenner, Margaret Funnell, Gill Garrett and Star Bray.

Relationships are explored with humour and pathos and we see how these women grow during their experiences. Audiences should expect to laugh, cry and maybe even leave the theatre humming Jerusalem! Don’t miss this exciting production opening the Lewes Theatre Club 2012-13 season!

The sunflower is used as a symbol of the original Calendar Girls. When John was diagnosed with lymphoma in 1998 he coped by focusing on short term goals – the main one being to see his favourite plant, the sunflower, bloom again. Sadly he didn’t live to reach his goal. We have been very touched by this story and have linked with local W.I. groups to use this event to support fundraising for Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research. There will be W.I. stalls in the foyer to look at before the production. You can find out more about fundraising at beatbloodcancers.org/research.

Sandra Tomlinson Director

Review

The real story of Calendar Girls is one of a community uniting in an attempt to make something positive out of a tragedy. In 1998 a group of WI women in Yorkshire planned a fund raising operation in aid of Leukaemia Research after the husband of one member was diagnosed with the disease and subsequently died. The resulting saucy, humorous, nude calendar featuring the WI women far outsold the initial print run and became a worldwide media story. The fictional story of Calendar Girls began life as a film based on fact in 2003. With a cast including Helen Mirren and Julie Walters, it did very well at the box office and won a number of awards. Tim Firth, who wrote the screenplay, went on to write a stage version which premiered at The Chichester Festival Theatre and transferred to the West End in 2008. Productions of the play continue to tour nationally and worldwide. I saw the play in the West End a few years ago when a friend of mine, a Lewes-based actor who plays Kenton Archer in the Archers, played Rod alongside Kelly Brook, Hannah Waterman and Arabella Weir. I remembered it as a mildly entertaining and cleverly commercial show.

So at Lewes Little Theatre I was happy to find that there is much more to the play than I found that night in London. The play benefited from being in an intimate space which is, as befits the location of the play, part of a local community. The committed cast and a caring director gave the piece authenticity and did justice to what is an extremely well crafted, funny play with pathos and warmth at its heart. Before the LLT show I overheard director Sandra Tomlinson saying that the first thing she had done with her cast was to take them to a real WI meeting and how much they had enjoyed it. Her wish to make the world of the play real and not just something out of a cosy sitcom paid off.

A perfectly executed set by Adrian Bowd with an excellent almost photographic
screen drop painting of England’s green and pleasant land visible through the window of the village hall set up the world of middle England. I enjoyed all the performances a lot. The feeling of camaraderie which is crucial to this play was apparent, and the cast worked with commitment and energy. Being an actress myself, I could well imagine the fun they must have had together especially, of course, negotiating the naked element! In fact, the saucy, nude aspect that the play is perhaps best known for lasts for a very short time and is all over by the interval. It is in the second half that the real emotional meat unfolds when we learn more about the women’s backstories, motivations and stresses.

In an ensemble piece it is always hard, and perhaps unfair, to pick out particular actors. However, David Morley as John was excellent and perfectly cast as the central character whose death gives rise to the fund raising plan. Charlotte Tayler completely inhabited her part of Ruth, who as the wife of a man playing away, has lost all her confidence. The excellent Jenny Lloyd Lyons played Annie, John’s widow, with poise and truth. But once again I must say I enjoyed all the performances and thought that Sandra Tomlinson cast well and directed with detail and care.

The fictional life of the Calendar Girls goes on with many, professional and amateur, productions performed worldwide. The fundraising life of Calendar Girls continues too. In October the Royal Albert Hall hosted a celebration of 13 years of the Yorkshire ladies fundraising journey with has so far raised over £3 million for Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research.

Real life widow Angela sums up the extraordinary story of the Calendar Girls, “I think that we’ve all coped really well with what has happened. We’ve done the most amazing things but we’ve kept our feet on the ground and we’ve never forgotten why we did what we did. We didn’t do the calendar because we wanted to be famous but because we wanted to raise money in John’s memory. It has been the most marvellous experience.”

I really enjoyed seeing this play the second time around and can only imagine that for the cast and crew the execution of this production has also been ‘the most marvellous experience’. Judging by the comments of the audience members I heard they’d certainly had a great evening.

Lucie fitchett

Review

Nearly everyone, in some way, must have been touched by the subject of this play based on the real life story of the brave WI Ladies who decided to pose in a very unlikely WI way for their fund raising calendar. I also guess that many of us have seen the film and possibly a professional stage production but now it has come out for the amateur stage, this in no way seems to have diminished the interest shown in regard to audience numbers.

In this production, director Sandra Tomlinson certainly caught the quirkiness and poignancy of this extremely British story told to us by the very talented cast. The characterisations were excellent with the insecurities of all the ladies involved from the Knapeley WI coming through which combined well with the fun and the pathos that the making of the calendar produced.

Avril Francis-Bell and Jenny Lloyd Lyons as Chris and Annie were the instigators of the project which arose from the death of Annie’s husband John. We were privileged to go with them through the ups and downs of their friendship and David Morley as Annie’s husband gave a very moving performance.
The rest of the cast, whether calendar girls or not, made their characters come alive and the story was told with great sensitivity.
The action mainly took place in Knapeley Church Hall with a wonderful view through the window to John’s Hill where the sunflowers were planted.
When the action moved to the hill, the scenery was effortlessly moved to reveal this lovely countryside.
This was a movingly thought provoking play with a good balance of humour – I wasn’t able to stay for the adjudication which took place on the night I attended but I’m sure the remarks would have been very positive.

Brenda Gower Regional Representative for the National Operatic and Dramatic Association