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This production, the first amateur performance of Calendar Girls in this area – will be a defining moment, and one which others will be hoping to emulate.

It wasn’t perfect – but the whole had everything it needed to make it an excellent evening’s theatre.  There were a few times when certain of the actors could have projected more – as some of the dialogue was not easy to hear – I appreciate the need for quietness and despondency to be to the forefront, but never to the detriment of hearing the lib, as it is in these emotional moments that telling words are said, and should be heard.

The set was exactly right, another Gary Nash creation, and gave the impression of the old time village hall where a typical WI would meet.  It created the feel that helped the actors weave their characters into the script.  I liked the move to John’s hill and the back drop – it all created another feel and dimension to the play.

Lighting was exactly right – for a play like this there is never scope for anything too ground-breaking, but Dave Houghton created something that brought the set and the play to life.  The sound effects enhanced the action, although I felt that some of the music and sound bites were slightly too loud, there seemed to be a bit of reverb coming through, which was hard on the ears.  However, in the main it was good.

It was nice to see some new faces in the cast, and also others given the chance outside of being a chorus member.  The six ladies who formed the nucleus of the nude calendar had a good bond, you could see it, and it was part and parcel of the understanding behind the script.

I loved Eileen Kirby as Chris, the ebullient lady who joined WI to make her mother-in-law think she was respectable – who didn’t do any of the normal WI things, but was determined they should make the most of this once in a lifetime opportunity, and thanks to her vision they raised an inordinate amount of money for the charity.  Eileen plays these strong ladies very well.

The scene on John’s hill when she stripped off and there was sound effects of a car horn and then a crash, were very funny.

Deb Cheshire as Annie, whose husband John died from leukemia, sparking the need to raise money for a settee for the waiting room at the hospital where he received his treatment, showed us a feisty, wistful and emotional lady.  I really believed in her, and her scenes with John when he was obviously dying were very nicely done.

Sharon Robinson really came into her own as Cora the vicar’s daughter, who had a very nice line in language, and she was a good contrast to the more refined ladies of the WI!  She gave Cora a streak of defiance, (with her illegitimate daughter from a fling with an American, which made the daughter rebellious in her reaction to her mother), but at the same time wanting to conform to the ideal of the vicar’s daughter!

Ruth, the newish WI member, who was hoping to fit in by doing everything requested of her by the president, was played by newcomer Emma Fourniss.  She got the essence of the character well, the diffidence at times, and the feeling that she wasn’t quite as good as the other ladies, but was going to make her mark.  I loved the rabbit outfit, and the misunderstanding by everyone as to what animal it actually was – and the still life/Westlife scene was very funny.

Nuala Prior, another new face, was posh Celia – immersed in the ladies golf club, but being a little bit risqué on the side, having ridden topless on a Harley Davidson when she was 16, which all helped to give the character substance.  

Liz Rhodes was Jessie, perhaps the closest to the type of lady most people would connect with the WI.  Retired school teacher which a sharp tongue, who wouldn’t shy away from telling it how it is.  I loved the part when she agreed to do the calendar as long as a certain part of her anatomy would not be on show!!  A lovely and very funny moment.

These ladies formed the nucleus of the Calendar Girls, and they really drew us into their feelings, their insecurities and their nervousness at actually stripping off.  I thought the actual scene when the calendar was shot was exceedingly well done – tasteful but gave the audience all they were thinking should be there.  They all had their moment, Celia with her buns, Ruth with her marmalade, Cora at the piano, Annie with her teapot, Chris her flowers and Jessie’s knitting.

Rod, Chris’s husband, was played by John Horley – who also created a subservient husband, always doing what Chris wanted, until he eventually turned masterful when it really mattered, a nice part well-played.

Luke Murphy had the small but telling part of Lawrence, the photographer, who couldn’t help but be intimidated by these determined but frightened ladies, he got the right feel and look to the part.

Andy Sizmur created a very nice character as John, he got the happy go lucky character to start with, who enjoyed helping the ladies of the WI in their ventures, gradually progressing through the debilitating stages of the disease.  Very brave to shave his head for the part, but it made it all the more poignant, and his death was handled very sensitively – as it must have been a difficult scene to achieve the pathos, without it being totally obvious. I thought it worked well, and Andy gave the part nice depth and feeling in the latter stages up to his death.

Maggie Doust played Marie the redoubtable WI president, anxious for everything to be as it always had been – and ruling the roost, until the rebellion of the calendar.  Maggie gave her just the right amount of gravitas to make her believable.

Josh Thompson played Liam the advertising exec – who misled Chris into believing their inclusion in the washing powder commercial would be above board, again a small part, but integral to the inevitable feeling that Chris was doing all this for her own advancement, thus causing bad feeling between her and the others.  

Lady Cravenshire, the local landowner’s wife was played by Liz Hale, with a suitable uppercrust portrayal, and cut glass accent.

Chris Lines as Brenda and Deryn Rhodes as Elaine, completed the line up – again small but relevant parts, that gave depth to the other characters and a window into their lives.

The costumes were all very good, and fitted well with the characters – from Celia’s out there red dresses and white coat, to Jessie’s rather old fashioned but smart casuals.  I liked the black dresses and pearls for the ladies, however felt that Cora’s dress was so completely different to the others (although very lovely), that it rather spoiled the look created.

I would like to just mention Lynda Fagan for her attention to detail in a prop-heavy production.

This production really hit the mark, Richard Lovelock directed with a sense of fun and sensitivity that gave us a well-rounded production, with moments of high drama, pathos and hilarity, and I, along with everyone in the audience I tuned in to at one time or another, thought it was excellent. A couple of people even said to me they thought it was better than the professional production currently touring, high praise indeed from a discerning amdram audience.

I liked the calendar and the fact that local WI’s ran a raffle at each performance, thus raising money for the Leukemia and Lymphona Trust, a significant sum was raised which added to the good feeling generated.

So, once again Griffins, be proud of yourselves, revel in the dimensions and contrasts of mood you gave your audience, from tears to laughter, disbelief to truth, primness to downright rudeness, it was all there, and yes, I did succumb to tears!

Nova Horley



GRIFFIN PLAYERS

CALENDAR GIRLS” review date: 15TH Sept 2012

LUTON LIBRARY THEATRE, LUTON

Director:  Richard Lovelock

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