Calendar Girls

Nov 10 2022 | By More

★★★★☆   Bittersweet

Church Hill Theatre: Wed 9 – Sat 12 Nov 2022
Review by Hugh Simpson

Blackout Productions’ Calendar Girls, at the Church Hill Theatre to Saturday, combines affable comic familiarity with enough grit and sadness to convince.

The true story of the WI members from Yorkshire, whose posing for a nude fundraising calendar became an international news story, has now been depicted in various forms.

A massive success when first staged, Tim Firth’s play is now overshadowed by both what came before – the movie with screenplay by Juliette Towhidi and Firth, on which the play is based, and by what followed – the musical adaptation by Firth and Gary Barlow.

A scene from Calendar Girls. Pic Blackout

The play has its own attractions, however, in its gentle humour and its portrayal of friendship and loss. The script is very much derived from that strand of North of England variety that spawned so many renowned performers – a tradition as much at home with anger and schmaltz as it is with absurdity.

On its way to the end of the pier, this story also stopped off to pick up some Donald McGill postcards. However, the cheekiness is all rather wholesome and even strangely bloodless, but well enough done, with the photography sequence cleverly staged.

The opportunities this gives to an ensemble of mature female performers are a definite attraction for amateur companies, which is certainly something done justice in this production. Annie, whose loss of her husband John to leukaemia provides the springboard for the fundraising calendar, is portrayed with considerable emotion by Lesley Ward.

nuanced characters

The various other ‘calendar girls’ are nuanced characters, each struggling in their own way against the expectations of others. Samantha Lea, as Annie’s longtime friend Chris, has a sparky individuality. Pauline Dickson gives single mother and church organist Cora a quiet anger that is highly impressive.

Elaine Clark is spiky and believable as retired teacher Jessie; Judith Walker gives voice to Ruth’s long-repressed sadness very effectively, while Kat Croan’s Celia is suitably animated.

The other roles are drawn with a broader brush, but Fiona Main’s snooty WI chair is wonderfully timed, as is Dorothy Johnstone’s comic cameo.

Steven Smyth’s John has the requisite emotion, while Rory MacLean’s depiction of photographer Lawrence is highly successful.

A scene from Calendar Girls. Pic Blackout

The play does sag a little in the second half. While it gives time in the spotlight to each of the ensemble, Chris and Annie – the main drivers of the plot earlier – are comparatively sidelined, apart from a difference of opinion that seems to have been shoehorned in to provide some sense of dramatic jeopardy. Ironically, the very act of dramatising the story was apparently to cause rifts in the group more serious than any of those displayed on stage.

The less effective second half is not helped by the pacing of this production. Steve Phair’s set is excellent at depicting both the church hall interior and the Yorkshire countryside, but the gaps between scenes are too long and still do not cover the moving of the furniture.

coherent ensemble

Another contributor to the lack of speed is the familiar problem of performers taking such care to maintain the (admittedly remarkably consistent) accents that some of the dialogue is overprecise, almost to the point of being stilted.

However, overall there is a consistent flow to proceedings; director James Dickson has fashioned a remarkably coherent ensemble. The sense of camaraderie and friendship is palpable but never tips over into the cosy.

This combination of the warm and the realistic serves the production well and makes for a satisfying evening.

Running time: Two hours and 30 minutes (including one interval)
Church Hill Theatre, 33a Morningside Road, EH10 4DR
Wednesday 9 – Saturday 12 November 2022
Evenings at 7.30 pm, Matinee Sat 2.30 pm
Tickets and details: Book here

Blackout Productions Website:
Facebook: @blackoutproductions
Instagram: @productionsblackout
Twitter: @ablackoutprod


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