Is it a play? Is it a film? No its real life. With the original calendar now raising over two million pounds, Calendar Girls is still packing a punch for Leukaemia Research by being a hit at theatres across the Country. The story of the WI is sadly based on fact, with the ladies trying to raise money to mark the death of one of their husbands. But while their “nude” calendar became a worldwide hit, it was the smash hit film that brought the story once again to everyone’s attention. But then Tim Firth, wrote the play Calendar Girls, which not only captures the comedy in the story but switches seamlessly to the tragedy and those all important tender thought provoking moments.
We first meet the ladies of the WI as one of their husbands (Colin Tarrant) is falling ill, soon his illness destroys him and his wife Annie (Jan Harvey) tries to raise funds for the hospital in his memory. The idea of a nude calendar sends shockwaves through the WI but with Chris (Lynda Bellingham) leading the way, soon clothes are lost, left, right and centre in the name of charity.
When the finished calendar proves to be a worldwide hit, the friendships come under strain but the final moments among the sunflowers on a Yorkshire hill are at the same time, simple, effective and very moving.
Lynda Bellingham is one of the original cast members and while in London, the cast regularly changed keeping the production fresh and continually developing. Having seen one of the London casts I can honestly say that the touring production is every bit as good as the West End cast I saw. In fact two of that cast are touring in the show. Gemma Atkinson plays Celia, where in the West End she played Elaine with Kathryn Rooney now playing Elaine. Kathryn was covering the part of Cora (in place of Jill Halfpenny) when I previously saw the play, that part now being played by Letitia Dean.
Casting for the tour will change (as it did in London) around every twelve weeks but no doubt Director, Psyche Stott, will ensure the standard is maintained throughout.
There is something for everyone in this play and during the photography scene you could actually feel the audience willing the characters along as they dared to disrobe. While the play does tackle a serious subject, the comedy cannot be faulted and while no doubt “accidents” must happen during the photo-shoot scenes , where nothing really gets seen, they are so well handled no one could take offence whatever occurs.
This is the feel good show that makes your realise life does go on as we try to beat this terrible disease.