Writer: Tim Firth
Director: Jack Ryder
Reviewer: Lu Greer
By now surely everybody knows the story of the Calendar Girls, what with both the well documented event itself, and the hit film. This show, however, gives the audience more of the story – showing us the lives of the women of the WI, as well as Annie’s struggle after her husbands death.
However, this final tour of Calendar Girls isn’t just a story of the fight against cancer, it’s also a very realistic glimpse into the lives of a group of women. Most importantly, though this show is very, very funny.
With the beautifully delivered one liners from all of the women, the occasional impromptue song, and even a slide show on broccoli, Tim Firth’s show has the entire audience doubled over with laughter from start to finish. It’s because of this constant comedy that the show is able to also give the audience important messages about the cancer around which the show is based. This is particularly clear when Celia (Sue Holderness) talks about her mothers reluctance to go for a mammogram, and her subtle encouragment to the women in the audience to go and get screened themselves.
Lisa Riley as the timid Ruth, absolutly steals the show. Ruth isn’t the funniest character, nor does she have the most touching background story, but it is the moment when she finally finds her voice, when confronted with the husbands mistress, which had the entire audience cheering and will be what they’re talking about long after the show is over.
Robert Jones’ set designs fit subtly into the show, with the simple parish hall floor creating the centre stage throughout, and part of it raising to create the hill setting. They aren’t always spectacular, but they create the feel of the womens institute’s village hall perfectly. The timing of the christmas tree appearing from the floor is possibly the only moment when the sets are really brought to the audience’s attention, and it is a moment that is so obscure it brilliantly reminds the audience of the obsurity of the entire idea.
With everything else going on in this show, it is easy to forget that this is based on the true story of John Baker, who died of non-hodgkins lymphoma, and the women that really did raise money for leukaemia research by posing in the nude. When the cast come on to take their final bows there is a perfect reminder of this, with a banner above their heads telling the audience that the original Calendar Girls have now raised over three million pounds.
This is a show that juxtaposes comedy and serious aspects about the importance of funding for cancer research wonderfully. It is a rare show that leaves an audience laughing, and with a message – which was clearly received by the audience as they formed queues to put money into cancer research donation buckets on the way out.
There are probably funnier shows than this, and shows that depict cancer stuggles more poignantly, but for a show that covers both very well, and gives you more double-entendres’ about cupcakes in two hours than you will ever hear again, it’s certainly worth seeing.