Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Calendar Girls Congress Theatre Eastbourne 12-17 July 2010 Review

Calendar Girls
Congress Theatre
12-17 July 2010

(show seen 14 July)

(speaking order)

Cora - Mikyla Dodd *
Chris - Gemma Craven
Annie - Sue Holderness
Ruth - Hannah Waterman
Jessie - Anne Charleston
Celia - Charlie Dimmock
Marie - Elizabeth Bennett
Brenda Holce - Tracy Briggs
John - Colin Tarrant
Rod - John Labanowski
Lawrence - Dean Gaffney
Lady Cravenshire - Su Douglas
Elaine - Kerry Bennett (?)*
Liam - Dean Gaffney

* Due to Letitia Dean not taking part in this show in Eastbourne the role of Cora was played by Mikyla Dodd. Kerry Bennett is the published understudy and I think it was Kerry who stepped into Mikyla's published role of Elaine. (if incorrect please use my contact form).

Given the hype Calendar Girls has received regarding its "nudity" it was good to have a laugh even before this performance even started.

We have an elderly friend (who I think should remain nameless). He went to see an earlier performance at the Congress Theatre but those who saw him were amused to see him constantly using his binoculars. Yes I know binoculars are common place in theatres to aid those who have a somewhat distant view. So where was he sitting? Grand Circle? - no. Circle? - no. Mid to back of the stalls perhaps? - no. No - he was seated smack bang in the centre of the front row in the stalls in front of the stage. Now I know there is little wrong with his eyesight so I can only assume he took them to get a laugh. I bet he got a few odd looks too!

Anyway I feel that given the publicity Calendar Girls has received in recent years it is almost tempting not to mention the story. But in case anybody has been in semi-permanent hibernation here's a resume. It's all based on the true , actually very sad, story of a group of members of the Womens Institute in Rylstone. John Baker the husband of WI member Angela (Annie) was suddenly diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin's Lymphona, at age 53, back in 1998. Sadly John's life was taken quickly but the group decided to press on with a Pirelli type glamour calendar to raise funds for Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research. They would have been happy raising hundreds of pounds. Instead this incredible group of women have, to date, raised £2 million plus.

Calendar Girls made it to the big screen, starring Helen Mirren and Julie Walters, and it has been a West End Hit. Now Eastbourne has it's turn.

Audience levels are looking to be some of the best so far this year for the Congress Theatre. 1400+ people (I'd say women outnumbered Men 10/1) in this performance meant only restricted view areas remained unfilled.

I don't quite understand why there is such a huge female to male imbalance. I guess it relates primarily to the nakedness that is allegedly frequent in this show. We know of two couples who aren't going to see it for just that reason.

What a waste...... because the nudity aspect of Calendar Girls must be the most cleverly overhyped piece of publicity ever issued for a theatrical show. Whilst I do appreciate there is the odd bit of flesh visible it really is a lot of fuss about nothing. Put it this way, on the advertising poster is Hannah Waterman's backside. Believe me there is more flesh visible on that poster than you will ever see in this show.

I am sure there are many, many people not seeing this because it's been advertised so heavily as "brave actresses prepared to bare all". For goodness sake ignore that and just go to see it for the entertaining show it is. You will come out thinking firstly what a great production it is and secondly how trivial the "fleshy parts are".

That doesn't detract from the clever way these actresses ,and indeed the original WI members themselves, posed for their calendar photos. It really was done in the best possible taste. Actually the actresses approach this with far more "security" than the original WI ladies did. The only creature to get a view of Charlie Dimmock's breasts in this show will will be a house fly who happens to be hiding on the underside of an iced bun as Charlie squashes two large ones to her bosom...... and even then he's going to suffocate as punishment!

It's a show that has laughs, plenty of them. But equally because of the subject matter it is quite heartbreaking in places. Before I get to the females who lead this show I must credit Colin Tarrant who played the tragic John. I thought that it was an amazing delivery of the final stages in John's life. Totally believable.

The actresses? Well it's a show full of fine actresses accompanied by Charlie Dimmock. That's actually not as insulting as it sounds if you think about it. The original women of the Rylstone WI weren't actresses, just ordinary people looking to do something in a good cause. This show,together with all the other activities that have taken place since that original calendar, continues to raise money for vital medical research.

There were several mutters about Charlie's performance and perhaps she is far better at growing melons than .... no I can't possibly say that! But lets face it acting is a new venture for her and she has done a lot to promote awareness of this show and the good cause it represents in TV interviews and other publicity so she does deserve a lot of credit. After all if we asked Hannah Waterman to talk for two hours on the benefits of using slow-release fertilizers she probably wouldn't perform 100% either.

It is a shame Letitia isn't performing in these shows but with Mikyla Dodd filling her shoes as Cora so brilliantly I don't think she was even missed. The other leading ladies deliver equally impressive performances but I have to agree with so many other reviewers who have highlighted one actress in particular for standing out amongst the crowd.

Hannah Waterman's performance as Ruth was exceptional. Ruth is the WI member who can't make up her mind whether she is prepared to pose for the calendar or not. Watching Hannah's character as she dithers and dallies over the calendar shot is hilarious. Out of all the poses Hannah has the one which has the most risk of exposing more than she is meant to. But when the big moment happens it gets one of the biggest cheers of the evening and Hannah is extremely graceful and dignified in her exit into a dressing gown.

Dean Gaffney, as photographer Lawrence, is a great casting as he shows as much nervousness taking the pictures as the ladies do posing for them.

I can't see why Liam, the advertising photographer, is also played by Dean though. Yes it's made clear he is playing somebody different but I really think to be as realistic as possible this should be played by somebody different.

Calendar Girls won't go down as my favourite show ever but that does not mean I didn't thoroughly enjoy it. I do think that more men really should appreciate this production though - it is thought provoking as well as funny.

If you can make a donation to Leukaemia Research please visit the official website by following this link.

4 out of 5 for Calendar Girls Print This Entry

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