Andy Howells reviews the second headlining show of Everyman Theatre’s Cardiff Open Air Theatre Festival – Calendar Girls!
Cardiff Open Air Theatre Festival’s Ruby Jubilee continues this week, with Tim Firth’s stage adaptation of Calendar Girls – the Stage Play. Balancing comedy with drama, Calendar Girls is based on a true story of love, inspiration and sisterhood and how ordinary folk from a small Yorkshire village made international news when they produced their ‘Alternative WI Calendar’.
While this is not the musical version of Calendar Girls, which has played many theatres lately, I find the play version refreshing, purely because it allows a lot of air for the characters (particularly the seven main protagonists) to breathe and develop. Also, as the play has many funny moments, the comedy needs to balance with the ongoing drama, something of which I feel is not always achieved with the musical version. The narrative is handled beautifully by Director Simon H West and his creative team in this production, allowing the audience to care for and identify with the characters within moments of the play beginning.
The protagonists are all believable, everyone probably knows an Annie or a Chris as much as they know a Cora or a Ruth. All seven Calendar Girls are given a fair share of attention in the script and the actors portraying them give more than their all on stage!
Bethan Griffiths’ Cora is a feisty, but lovable single mother, rebellious vicar’s daughter and the official WI pianist, while Sarah Green is delightful portraying the upper crust nature of Celia, a Major’s wife, who seeks alternative excitement from the WI as opposed to the golf club.
Laura Bridgwater brings some necessary wisdom and cheekiness to former schoolteacher, Jessie, as Amy Brooks is endearing and magical in the seemingly happy-to-please role of Ruth. meanwhile its Louise Sanderson who succeeds in enforcing a no-nonsense attitude to keep the WI in order, Marie.
Marie has her hands full with best friends Annie, played by Pam Wiener and the mischievous florist, Chris, portrayed by Joan Hoctor. It is Chris who comes up with the idea for a tastefully photographed nude calendar posed by WI members when Annie’s husband, John tragically dies from leukaemia. The proceeds are to raise money for a sofa in the visitors’ area of the local hospital, but the calendar idea is fiercely opposed by the WI.
The storyline sees some incredibly moving moments between Pam Wiener and Joan Hoctor as the two best friends, plus Laurence Clarke’s powerful portrayal as John. I felt incredibly moved as John’s health visibly became more fragile and although he is only on stage for a brief time, his presence, remained throughout the remainder of the production – a true power of drama and comedy working together and making us cry and laugh!
John’s battle with leukaemia of course is supported by the incredible Calendar Girls themselves, including Misses Wiener and Hoctor, both of whom portray a friendship, which is loving and tested, making it more-so believable. The opening night audience totally loved Calendar Girls. The cast were never short on reaction when a character makes a stand to be counted (the most notable been Amy Brooks Ruth’s clever confrontation with Alexandra Williams make-up artist, Laura).
There were also plenty of laughs and whoops from the audience during the infamous nude photo scene. Some of the reaction was aimed at the brilliant Osian Llewelyn Edwards as photographer, Laurence, who comically weaves in and around the nude photo session to gain successful results, while the Calendar Girls, carry off the session with flair, decorum, some carefully positioned cream cakes and a few bottles of Gin! (Kudos to the ladies for this scene as it must have been rather cold for them as the temperatures in the open-air setting of Sophia Gardens dropped along with their robes!)
Comedy perfection, with ‘reet’ Yorkshire accents (and I can say that having grown up in the heart of the dales), make a date with the Calendar Girls in Cardiff’s Sophia Gardens! You’ll love it! Calendar Girls continues until July 15.