Calendar Girls (New Farm Nash Theatre)
The Brunswick Room, Merthyr Road Uniting Church
November 17 – December 9
The British comedy film “Calendar Girls” may be almost 15 years old, but as Nash Theatre Company’s final production for the year shows, its fascinating yet true story is still familiar enough and its themes resonate enough to engage 2017 audiences.
When Annie (Lindi Milbourne)’s husband John (Chris Carroll) dies prematurely from leukaemia, her close friend and Women’s Institute branch co-member Chris (Carrie O’Rourke) hits upon the idea of an annual calendar alternative to the usual Yorkshire bridges and landscape scenes to raise funds to purchase a more comfortable sofa for the visitor’s lounge in the hospital where John was treated. The WI group decides to do modest nude (as opposed to naked) poses for the camera while engaging in traditional WI activities such as knitting and baking, with strategically placed props covering their exposed body parts. As their bras come off for the new settee, conflict follows both from within the WI organisation and amongst the ladies themselves as the calendar causes massive media attention from across the nation and the world. In Nash Theatre’s hands, the ensemble piece presents broad comedy and poignant drama in equally measured doses. Indeed, despite some initially problematic accents, the production is like a Yorkshire ray of sunshine, especially delightful for a summer-day-out matinee.
All the female characters have an immediate natural rapport, understandable given their later disrobing. And the comprehensive script (at 2+ hours running time) allows each character their transformative moment in the sun. The timid and easily anxious Ruth and prim and proper President Marie Smith Jones are almost caricatures, however, Annie is simply lovely and Lindi Milborune conveys both kindness to her increasingly fragile husband and steadfast loyalty following his passing. Carrie O’Rourke is another standout as both outspoken advocate and caring friend, even when morphed by insensitive and selfish dogmatism. Together they convey a strong sisterly bond even as their characters have very different reactions to their new-found celebrity status.
Like the sunflower that serves as its ongoing motif, “Calendar Girls” trumpets joy. While some cultural references are now dated, the show still contains many genuinely humorous moments. Choreography is carefully considered during the scene in which the women manage to strip down and strike strategic but suggestive poses while never revealing too much. And their crafty humour is nicely magnified by the painfully embarrassed reactions of the calendar’s amateur photographer (Mervyn Marriott).
As it is in life, “Calendar Girls” has its happiness and sadness, however spending time in the company of its ladies makes for a wonderful couple of hours. Its script is tightly executed to accentuate the positive without too much labour and its sweet, witty and good-humoured comedy is genial and not overdone. Indeed, it offers the rare treat of an ensemble of female talent all on stage at the same time. The fact that it contains some seasonally jubilant scenes, only adds to the joy of its experience.