Calendar Girl - the play

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Lynda Bellingham

Lynda Bellingham with Tim Firth collecting the BEST NEW COMEDY award for CALENDAR GIRLS.

The ability to be funny and believable in the same breath is perhaps the most underrated talent in the field of dramatic art. It is so often overlooked, so often overshadowed by its more tragic relatives, so often perceived as merely the careful baton-pass of comic words from writer to audience. All writers who have seen comic endeavours go astray in the hands of actors will bear testament to how comforting it feels sharing custody with someone in whose hands no beat will be missed, no line misinterpreted. In this respect our gallery of custodians is today depleted.  TIM FIRTH (20/10/14)


NEWS:
CALENDAR GIRLS

Samuel French: United States of America has announced a two year window for USA performances of Calendar Girls. For further information please contact Samuel French USA HERE.

Calendar Girls for the USA

Bernie Nolan
Bernie Nolan
It's with real sadness that everyone involved with the stage play CALENDAR GIRLS
learned about the death of Bernie Nolan this week. If she was as much a beacon of fun and optimism in other spheres of her life as she was in that company then she will be sorely missed. TIM FIRTH (07/07/13)

Seasons of Love: The Calendar Girls at the Royal Albert Hall with Tim Firth: October 7th

Amateur Groups: Calendar Girls Music - Click here

AND NOW..

Scrcipt for Calendar Girls

The script is now available from Samuel French.

ISBN:  0573110670
ISBN-13:  978057311067-2

Canada Girls

Lynda Beiingham

Mikyla Dodds

Michelle

June Watson

Brenda Gilhooly

Debbie Chazen

Ruth Madoc

Jan Harvey

Letita Dean

Charlie Dimmock

Gemma Craven

The play Calendar Girls

The film Calendar Girls

CALENDAR GIRLS

Calendar Girls Programme

Calendar Girls programme

All UK Calendar Girls stage photos
by John Swannell.

Kelly Brook as Celia with exceedingly bugger buns!

Anita Dobson in Calendar Girls

Jerry Hall in Calendar Girls

Calendar Girls in Norway

Calendar Girls in Norway

Calendar Girls in Norway

Calendar Girls in Norway

 

 

 

 

 

 

Theatre and Tim Firth

 

Calendar Girls

Written by Tim FirthWhats On Stage 2010 Award
Directed by Hamish McColl (Original Director)Video Calendar Girls on the stage
Directed by Psyche Stott (Jan - April 2010)
Directed by Roger Haines (May 2010 onwards)
Directed by Jack Ryder (current)
Produced by David Pugh & Dafydd Rogers
Designed by Roberts Jones
First performed at the Chichester Festival Theatre 2008

Toured UK in 2009; London's West End 2009/10; Toured UK 2010
/ 2011 (Largest tour ever for a play); Productions - Greece; Australia; Norway; Argentina; Russia; Finland; Denmark; Poland; Germany; 2010: Canada, Spain; Bulgaria; Czech Republic; New Zealand: 2011.
 
 

a
What's On Stage Award for Best New Comedy 2010

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2010 Calendar Girls

 

The Play

At first glance it should look like your classic WI calendar. Jams, cakes and sewing and all that. Except for one thing…the ladies are not naked, they're nude.’

A group of extraordinary women, members of a very ordinary Yorkshire WI, persuade one another to pose for a charity calendar with a difference - no more photos of Calendar Girls Nov 09Wharfedale bridges or Norman churches for them. Overcoming their initial reserve, the friends drop their dressing gowns, their modesty spared only by artfully placed cakes, knitting and flower arrangements.

Puzzling their husbands, mortifying their children and riding the wrath of the outraged WI, they spark a global phenomenon. But as media interest snowballs, the Calendar Girls find themselves exposed in ways they’d never expected, revealing more than they’d ever planned. A very English story with a very English heart, Calendar Girls is quirky, poignant and hilarious.

Adapted by Tim Firth from the Miramax film of the same name, it is based on an uplifting and very inspiring true story.

The Cast

Cast from September 2012

Marie  - Ruth Madoc
Jessie  - Helen Fraser
Chris  - Leslie Joseph
Cora  - Deena Payne
Celia  - Katherine Rooney
Elaine  - Camilla Dallerup
Lady Cravenshire/Brenda Hulse - Susan Bovell
Lawrence / Liam - Kevin Sacre
Annie - Sue Holderness
Rod - Robert Gill
John - Bruce McGregor
Ruth  - Kacey Ainsworth

 

January 12 - Summer 12
Ruth Madoc, June Watson, Lynda Bellingham, Deena Payne, Sue Holderness, Camilla, Dallerup, Jane Lambert, Kevin Sacre, Jan Harvey, John Labanowski, Joe McGann, Lisa Riley.

August 11 - January 12
Ruth Madoc, June Watson, Lynda Bellingham, Jennifer Ellison, Rula Lenska, Camilla Dallerup, Jane Lambert, Bruno Langley, Jan Harvey, John Labanowski, Joe McGann, Debbie Chazen

April 11 - August 11
Ruth Madoc, Helen Fraser, Lesley Joseph, Deena Payne, Kathryn Rooney, Camilla Dallerup, Susan Bovell, Kevin Sacre, Sue Holderness, Robert Gill, Colin Tarrant, Kacey Ainsworth

Jan 11 - April 11
Lynda Bellingham, Jennifer Ellison, Trudie Goodwin, Ruth Madoc, Lisa Riley, Bernie Nolan, Gwen Taylor, Danielle Lineker, Diana Moran, Bruno Langley And Joe Mcgann

Oct 10 - Jan 11
Ruth Madoc; June Watson; Lynda Bellingham; Michelle Collins; Brenda Gilhooly;- Mikyla Dodd; Susan Bovell; Michael Peluso; Jan Harvey; John Labanowski;- Colin Tarrant; Debbie Chazen
.

July 10 - Oct 10
Ruth Madoc; Susan Bovell; Jean Boht; Elaine C Smith; Denise Black; Jennifer Ellison; Miklya Dodds; Susan Bovell; Bruno Langley; Julia Hills; Bruce McGregor; Joe McGann; Rachel Lumberg.

May 10 - July 10
Elizabeth Bennett; Tracey Briggs; Anne Charleston; Gemma Craven; Letitia Dean; Charlie Dimmock; Miklya Dodd; Su Douglas; Dean Gaffney; Sue Holderness; John Labanowski; Colin Tarrant; Hannah Waterman.

Nov 09  - May10
Arabella Weir; Janie Dee; Rosalind Knight; Kelly Brook; Helen Lederer; Debbie Chazen; Hannah Waterman; Jan Leeming; Yvonne Riley; Bill Champion; Richard Attlee; Carl Prekopp; Kathryn Rooney.

Prior to Nov 09
Anita Dobson; Jill Baker; June Brown; Jerry Hall; Richenda Carey; Sarah Crowe; Julie Goodyear & Jill Halfpenny; Delia Lindsey; Yvonne Riley; Will Knightley; Neil McCaul; Jack Ryder; Gemma Atkinson.

Previously: Chris - Lynda Bellingham; Annie - Patricia Hodge; Jessie - Sian Phillips; Celia - Gaynor Faye; Maria - Brigit Forsyth; Ruth - Julia Hills; Cora - Elaine C. Smith; Lady Cravenshire/Brenda Hulse - Joan Blackwell; John - Gary Lilburn; Rod - Gerard McDermott; Lawrence/Liam - Carl Prekopp; Louise/Elaine - Abbey Francis.

 

Interviews for Calendar Girls

How did you first hear of the Calendar Girls story?

Tim: Ironically, my mum cut a piece out of the paper when the story first broke. Her interest was pricked not only by the story but by the fact it took place in the village where, for the last 40 years, we had been going on holiday. My Dad is an ex pat Yorkshireman and dragged us back to God’s county at all junctures.

Did you meet the original girls? What sort of research went into writing the film script? Did you take any artistic license on the actual story?

Tim: The true story was not a complete film as true stories tend not to be. By the time I got on board, a previous script had been attempted, a predatory strike made on the film company and the women’s group of eleven split in half. I came in more to rescue than write, which proved exhilarating as I didn’t pre-plan too much. I just wrote from experience - of my knowledge of the area, of my having bought the calendar from one of the women without realising it whilst on holiday, and from the experience of a family whose women had all been members of the WI. I deliberately didn’t meet the real women until after the script was written.

Were there any problems getting such high calibre actresses to bare all?

Tim: Initially there is always reserve. Then a group spirit kicks in, the same spirit as must have prevailed during the shooting of the original calendar. After that, there is trouble getting people to keep their clothes on.

With the film proven to be a great success, how did the idea for the stage show come about?

Tim: If stage is your first love as it is with me then the idea is there from the off. The truth is that more successful films than CG have had unhappy stage outings. There is no guarantee of any carry-over. It comes down to the genetics of a story as to whether there is any point in attempting a stage version. There is only a real call to put a story on stage if a potential stage version can achieve something the celluloid version didn’t. If this is not the case, then there is always the fear a writer is just being exploitative.

Were you hesitant in looking at a stage adaptation?

Tim: Not really. It was my idea in the first place to be honest. I applied personally to Disney for the stage rights. Having been given them, I then went in search of a producer, which is an unusual way to proceed. As it happens I already knew secretly who I wanted to produce the play, David Pugh and Daffyd Rogers, so the process was fairly straightforward.

What challenges were there in adapting for the stage?

Tim: To avoid the structure becoming linear and stringy I felt the answer was to keep a limit on locations. This was doubly important because I had already decided the time structure would be relatively long, i.e. the gestation period of a sunflower. Fortunately there was a location which was an obvious candidate in the village hall; this constituted a central shaded area to the venn diagram of all stories and kept the focus where it needed to be…on the women. Instead of the women going out to the world, the world came to the women. I therefore limited myself to two locations, one very finite and enclosed, (the church hall) and one open and limitless - the Yorkshire Dales. I was fairly sure this dual location structure would work as it was basically the same structure I had used in an earlier play, Neville’s Island.
 
Are there any moments in the stage show which are memorable or special for any reason?

Tim: The stage show was able to grow over several years before I finally settled on the printed text. Even then I had to withdraw the published text and pay for a reprint because another tour had revealed flaws to me. In a way that’s what I love about theatre - the ability to hone and refine. There is however always the fear you may eventually whittle your totem pole down to a toothpick. There were about five scenes in the original show that gradually got phased out including a whole coda where a pair of ramblers stumbled across the girls in the sunflowers. The WOW wreath moment came to me three years after the show had been running in the UK, when I was sitting in the stalls in Brisbane watching the Australian rehearsals. I also cut a scene with a knitted penguin which was then kept on by the cast and toured with them, haunting me with its mournful eyes whenever I went backstage.

What is your reaction to the enthusiasm with which amateurs are embracing the show across the UK?

Tim: It is of course hugely unexpected and very moving. What has impressed me most are the reports of women who have never really acted before wanting to get involved. If people put on the play partly in memory of someone, or as a challenge, or as a laugh, or to raise money I think it’s a rare and privileged existence for any play to have. I may never write anything again that achieves this.

Any advice for groups staging the show?

Tim: Keep the group scenes effervescent. Give as much thought to the energy of all background action. In a group comedy, it’s the work ‘off the ball’ that counts.

You’ve got an amateur theatre forum on your website – what was the inspiration behind this?

Tim: To be honest, I really wanted to hear how amateurs were getting on. They were, after all, the inspiration behind the play. It was initially written to release to the amateur market so the story of the Calendar Girls would continue to be told.

Amateur Stage co uk – Editor. December 2012

 

The Reviews

Empire Theatre, Liverpool (September 2010)

Touched by the pen of Tim Firth, the everyday becomes something significant.

The Wirral-born playwright has a knack of drawing out what is unusual in people’s lives, while at the same time reminding the audience of how much they have in common with what is happening on stage.

In a scene in Calendar Girls, the women take it in turns to read letters sent to them by others who have lost a loved one to cancer.

It’s a poignant moment, not just because it highlights how one Women’s Institute branch touched thousands of people across the world, but because every single person in the theatre was thinking about someone they know who had died of the disease, or had survived it, or who they would be devastated to see develop it.

It’s a show full of poignant moments – about friendship, determination and hope; about loss in many forms; about the importance of acceptance; about knowing when to let go.

But it also offers plenty of humour, as the six friends and WI members decide to pose nude for a calendar to raise money to buy a settee in the visitor’s waiting room of the local oncology ward.

Liverpool actor Joe McGann, with shaven head, puts in a nicely understated performance as John, the man whose death kick-starts the whole mission.

Rab C Nesbitt actor Elaine C Smith and Julia Hills (2Point4 Children) are solid as the best-friends at the centre of the drama, and Liverpool’s own Jennifer Ellison plays busty blonde Celia with a lot of charm.

Latecomer Anne Charleston, who took over the part of retired schoolteacher Jessie at the last minute when Jean Boht fell ill, brings a lot of comedy to what is really a supporting role.

But it is Rachel Lumberg as the put-upon people pleaser Ruth who truly steals the show.

The first half is a stream of Christmas parades, flower arranging, Jerusalem-singing and Easter fetes, before John’s death, ending with plenty of cheeky flashes of flesh as the women have their pictures taken for the calendar.

It plods a bit and you wonder how the plot will sustain itself after the interval, but the second half reveals more about the characters and their relationships.

At curtain call, it’s the real-life women that receive the standing ovation as a plaque descends to reveal they have raised more than £2m for Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research.

Laura Davis - Liverpool Daily Post

 

Kings Theatre, Edinburgh (September 2010)

The story of Calendar Girls is familiar to all (unless perhaps you’re a man, or you’ve been living under a rock), so it’s no surprise to see that this smash-hit show has returned to Edinburgh’s King’s Theatre for another two-week run.

This true story of the determined ladies from the Knapely Woman’s Institute has delighted and inspired audiences for years, and continues to do so in this hilarious yet touching play.

I was one of the youngest members of the audience, but that didn’t stop me enjoying this tale of the WI group who pose for a nude calendar to raise money for a good cause. In fact, the enduring appeal of the story comes from its ability to affect everyone, whatever their age. The themes of loss, friendship and fame are universal, and the play explores these with a refreshing truthfulness and a light touch.

It does take rather a long time to get going, but the smart, funny script and well-chosen cast soon make up for this. A range of famous faces play the Calendar Girls, including Elaine C. Smith as the gregarious Chris, Denise Black as the independent Cora, and Jennifer Ellison as buxom young trophy-wife, Celia. Elaine C. is the star of the show with her cheeky persona and her witty one-liners. She gets many of the best lines of the play, such as the famous ‘Lawrence, I think we’re going to need considerably bigger buns’, and delivers them with perfect comic timing to the cheering, clapping audience.

Of course, the high point of the show is when the ladies whip their clothes off. This is done with the perfect amount of joy and hilarity, with a selection of clever props used to ensure that the actresses don’t accidentally flash more flesh than they planned. There are plenty of whoops of encouragement from the audience, and it’s clear that both the cast and the crowd have a tremendous amount of fun during this part of the show.

The plot focuses on the two main characters, Chris and Annie, but the other women all have their own stories that are developed further as the play goes on. Alongside the death of Annie’s husband, John, we learn that Chris is neglecting her struggling business, Cora is worried about her daughter and Celia faces snobbery from the other wives at the golf club where her husband spends all his time. But the story that really stands out is that of Ruth, played by the brilliant Rachel Lumberg. Goody-two shoes Ruth originally opts out of stripping for the camera because, as she explains to Chris, ‘We’re not all Chrises in this life. Some of us are Ruths’. To see the kind-hearted Ruth’s transition from doormat to strong, empowered woman is one of the small triumphs of the production and has the entire audience rooting for her along the way.
Calendar Girls is a success because it strikes a chord with the women in the audience.

It confirms that during the later stages of their lives they can be as fun, as useful, as relevant as women of a younger age – and in John’s words, that this last phase ‘is always the most glorious’. It finishes on this note of positivity and remains an uplifting message, particularly as it’s based on such an incredible true story.

Rebecca Jamieson - InformedEDINBURGH.co.uk

 

Bristol Hippodrome (May 2010)

As we waited to enter the theatre to see Tim Firth’s Calendar Girls it was ‘spot the man’ with the number of males significantly outnumbered by our female counterparts. However, I can assure you that every male in the audience enjoyed the show just as much.

What I love about Calendar Girls is that it is based on a true story and the film which starred Helen Mirren and Julie Walters has been successfully adapted for the stage which since 2008 has seen numerous celebrities getting their kit off just like the original Calendar Girls who have raised £2 million pounds for the Leukaemia Research Fund thanks to the WI Calendar.

The Calendar Girls for this production are Charlie Dimmock, Gemma Craven, Anne Charleston, Letitia Dean, Sue Holderness, Hannah Waterman and Elizabeth Bennett.

Hannah Waterman (Ruth) was the pick of the bunch as an extremely amusing, nerdy character. There are times throughout the show when some of the actresses would have been better projecting their voices rather than shouting.

The audience is emotionally involved throughout, from the highs of the photo shoot as each woman strips off to have her modesty covered by – buns, knitting, pianos, tea pots and marmalade the theatre is filled with laughter with the wonderful lines of ‘nude, not naked’, ‘we’re going to need considerably bigger buns’, ‘no front bottoms’ and ‘I will be spilling over until the Autumn’ – to the sadness of death.

Whilst this is a hilarious show it is also very poignant.

Worcester News - Nigel Wilson

 

London's West End (November 2009)


Calendar Girls, based on the popular film and telling the true story of a WI group in the Yorkshire Dales who raised a fortune for charity by stripping off for a cheeky calendar, is becoming a West End fixture.

It began life in Chichester last year, toured triumphantly and is now on its third cast at the Noël Coward. On a damp Tuesday night the theatre was packed and the response uproarious. Needless to say, many of the critics have been snooty about the show.

This is unashamedly populist theatre – a touch formulaic, by turns funny and sentimental, and never digging too deeply into its characters in case the mood becomes too sad or sour. But Calendar Girls, with a script by Tim Firth who also co-wrote the movie, achieves exactly what it sets out to do. It makes you laugh, it makes you cry, and it leaves you feeling better about life than you did when you entered the theatre.

To knock such a successful, well-meaning, and generous-hearted show just because it isn’t as subtle or as profound as Chekhov strikes me as absurd.

The producers David Pugh and Dafydd Rogers take a particular pride in eye-catching casting. Though she was indisposed on the night I saw the show, the great Julie Goodyear, so magnificent for so long as Bet Lynch in Coronation Street, will soon be back on stage as the good-hearted church organist, Cora. The former newsreader Jan Leeming has a cameo role as a snobbish member of the local aristocracy, while Kelly Brook, former model and TV presenter and once voted the sexiest woman in the world, has taken over from Jerry Hall as the WI eye-candy.

It’s true that Miss Brook seems to find it pretty tricky to walk and talk at the same time, and she gabbles her words so badly that it is hard to discern even their basic sense. It is not a performance that will be troubling the scorers when it comes to judging this year’s theatre awards, but my, what a delightful eyeful Kelly Brook is, shaking her great mane of golden hair like a proud lioness and covering her modesty with iced buns during the hilarious and ingeniously staged photoshoot that is the comic highlight of Hamish McColl’s warm, affectionate production.

Janie Dee endows this jaunty show with genuine dramatic depth, bringing a rich mixture of grief, brave humour and a very English decency to the stage as the WI member whose husband’s death from leukaemia inspires the calendar. The play would seem mere froth without her.

There is splendid work too from former Fast Show star Arabella Weir as the good-hearted loud-mouthed Chris (and, yes, I’m afraid her bum does look big in this) and the splendid Debbie Chazen as a roly-poly housewife who spectacularly confronts the beautician who has been having an affair with her husband.

Subtle it ain’t, but in the great good cause of cheering us up in hard times, Calendar Girls is just the ticket.

The Telegraph - Charles Spencer

 

Theatre Royal, Bath

From the little that we know of him John Baker, 53, from the tiny village of Cracoe in Yorkshire would have been only too delighted that from the tragedy of his death so much fun, laughter and affection had been generated.

John's death inspired members of the local WI to be photographed nude amongst baskets of oranges, pots of jam and plates of cup cakes for a Pirelli style calendar that would raise money for new seating at John's old cancer hospital.

The story of how an unlikely assortment of women hit the headlines all around the world with their then totally novel idea was first told on film which brought laughter and tears to the screen in about equal proportions.

Now they have made a stage play of the story and, in terms of entertainment, it has about everything you could ever hope for from an evening out.

It is funny, sad, heartwarming, uplifting, inspirational and when the curtain finally comes down at the end of the evening, you feel you've found and lost a group of close friends.

Leaving aside for a moment John and the original WI ladies, the key to the success of the evening is in the mix of 'girls' who tell the story and they include Lynda Bellingham, Patricia Hodge, Sian Phillips and a host of others. They look as if they are all having a great time on stage and that comes across loud and clear – at least as far back as row C in the Royal Circle.

The packed audience went along determined to enjoy themselves – and we did. The show is everything it is cracked up to be and more. Pity there are only standby and standing tickets available. But, I am sure I speak for most people there on Monday when I say that we would not have missed seeing the show even if it had meant standing all evening.

Christopher Hansford

 

Cambridge


You probably need to join the queue for returns if you haven’t already booked your seats in Cambridge this week, though the play goes to the Theatre Royal, Norwich during its eight-week resumed tour in spring 2009. Tim Firth’s stage adaptation of the film he co-scripted is, as we all know, based on a real-life story; a personal tragedy which became a national triumph.

A member of a Yorkshire branch of the Women’s Institute lost her husband to lymphoma ten years ago. From his expressed desire to live long enough to see his favourite sunflowers bloom once more came the seed of a calendar with a difference. Jam and “Jerusalem”, cup-cakes and country crafts would never seem to be staples of the organisation in quite the same way again. As only to be expected, not everyone approved.

Hamish McColl’s production keeps us inside the village hall where the WI holds its meetings, though designer Robert Jones reminds us of the sweep of the moors outside throughout the action. McColl has assembled a very strong cast and coaxed some magnificent ensemble playing from them. The audience is involved emotionally from the very beginning, applauding each short scene as the tension builds to the actual photographic shoot for the “nude, not naked” pictures.

Then comes the interval, and the delicious cumulation of suspense, comedy and tragedy crumbles. Aftermaths never do live up to their preambles, in real life as much as in fiction, but the sourness as an element of exploitation creeps in, with commercialisation rearing its rigid plastic head, sits uncomfortably (if accurately) with what has preceded it.

Of the large cast Patricia Hodge’s Annie, so secure in her marriage, so fragmented by its end stands out as particularly moving. Then there’s Lynda Bellingham’s Chris, the get-up-and-go-with-it live wire who organises the calendar – and then has to cope with the resulting furore. If Julia Hills’s mouse of a Ruth takes some time to bristle her twitching whiskers, Elaine C Smith makes vicar’s daughter as strong a personality as she is a musician.

Gaynor Faye plays Celia, high-heeled, tight-jeaned and not really a country lass at heart. Siân Phillips as the retired school-mistress with an acerbic tongue and a golden wit has some of the best lines. It is, of course, a story mainly about women but the three men – Gary Lilburn as the doomed but never self-pitying John, Gerard McDermott as Chris’s husband Rod with a flower-shop threatened by the encroach of a supermarket giant and Carl Prekopp as two very different photographers – have their moments to take centre-stage, and seize them.

Anne Morley-Priestman

A lively, funny, heart-warming tale of an unusual group of Northern strippers – that's what The Full Monty was, and what Calendar Girls tries, in vain, to be. Even without the comparison, though, Tim Firth's play is an anecdote stretched so thin that its sentimentality and contrivance are transparent.

When a Women's Institute in Yorkshire produced a calendar showing its mature members' modesty protected only by jam jars or flowerpots, the media attention prompted a Hollywood movie. The play's manoeuvres to get the audience on side suggest the labours of a Disney operation working hard to win over an audience that frowns on artistic photography.

One method is to make the naughtiness cute. These WI ladies are overage schoolgirls, somehow compelled to take part in exercise classes and attend slide talks on vegetables. Saucy photos are a way the prankish pensioners can rebel against their stern, bossy head, who is their daughters' age. Their relaxed, earthy attitude to sex, aimed at the grey market, contrasts with the frigidity of the group's two other young women, who have wretched marriages.

If any doubts linger, there's the killer argument: cancer. The suggestion for the calendar came from the husband of a recently widowed member, and the profits went to leukaemia research. The ladies are "doing it for John", we are repeatedly told, and "John would have loved it". Worthy in real life, on the stage this is emotional blackmail and no substitute for action and character. Apart from the young neurotics, the WI members are indistinguishable salt-of-the-earth types, given to chirpy, implausible wisecracks, and the play has no raison d'être after the photoshoot halfway through (a series of tableaux staged with deft comedy by director Hamish McColl).

In the second act we are belatedly asked to become interested in the individuals, who fret, fight and make up in a half-hearted manner.

The thumping normality of Lynda Bellingham and Elaine C Smith is wearying, and Julia Hills, playing a clumsy woman, staggers about like an elephant in galoshes. But Patricia Hodge and Sian Phillips are dry and droll, and the former, as the widow, is even touching, underplaying her feelings with typical intelligence. They are not enough, however, to justify this muted hymn to female empowerment through getting your kit off.

Rhoda Koenig - The Independent

In 1998 a group of indomitable and courageous women, members of the local Yorkshire Women’s Institute, gathered in their village hall to discuss the subject of their next annual calendar and decided to dedicate it to the memory of the beloved husband and friend who had swiftly and tragically died at the age of fifty four – a victim of Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. Perhaps there would be enough money from the sales to buy a settee for the visitors’ room at the hospital where he had spent his last days. Their calendar changed the ‘Jam and Jerusalem’ image of the Women’s Institute, and changed their lives for ever, as well as generating around six hundred thousand pound for their cause.

In the play it is the ebullient Chris who comes up with a novel idea – instead of the usual country views or local churches – why not represent each month by posing totally naked, but using the accoutrements of the WI (cakes, teapots etc) to cover the essentials.

What attracted media attention and spread their fame world wide was the fact that these are all women of ‘a certain age’ – gravity and childbirth have taken their toll and it must have taken guts to overcome natural reluctance and bare all. Equally the actresses here on the Festival Theatre’s thrust stage are not in the first flush of youth, and it is only some very clever manipulation and arrangement of props which manages to conserve at least a modicum of their modesty.

Director Hamish McColl, well versed in comedy, emphasises the absurdity of trying to hide the ‘naughty bits’ behind iced buns or a teapot, and the performers are having such fun that the audience cannot help but warm to them and the original mission.
Lynda Bellingham is Chris – an irreverent WI member who only joined in a failed attempt to convince her mother-in-law that she was respectable – and she happily sports the most outrageous cover-up – a flowery confection which doesn’t cover much at all.

Patricia Hodge, as the bereaved Annie, is as elegant as ever, but with her Yorkshire accent giving her a more homely, friendly persona. Sian Phillips, haughtily erect and correct as teacher Jessie, has “become venomous by years of exposure to schoolchildren”, but surprises everyone by being the first to agree to the calendar – so long as there are no “front bottoms”, and Elaine C. Smith delights with her version of “a vicar’s daughter gone bad”, her predilection for jazzing up the hymns, and her revealing rear view while seated at the piano. Gaynor Faye as flighty golf playing Celia and Julia Hills as reluctant Ruth complete these ‘calendar girls’ with Brigit Forsyth the self-styled president of the group, shocked and disapproving – until she discovers it is a point gained over their rival village.

Robert Jones’s versatile set transforms from a village hall into a hill where the seeds scattered in memory of the deceased have grown into a sea of sunflowers – his favourite flower.

The story has been fictionalised, but only altered in small details, and the spirit of these amazing women shines through, with the standing ovation at the end a tribute to them as much as for the performance. The play induces a few tears along with the joy and laughter, and the original Calendar Girls – in black and each wearing a sunflower - were there to share it with us.

 

Sheila Connor – The British Theatre Guide

Unashamedly sentimental and full of heart and bare-faced cheek, Tim Firth's stage adaptation of his own film script, inspired by the group of Yorkshire WI members who stripped off for a charity calendar to raise money for Leukaemia Research, should rake in a bob or two itself. A West End transfer followed by a never-ending tour is surely assured for a show whose feelgood factor is sky-high and which, through its celebration of female friendship among the middle-aged and middle-class, cannily covers several bases of the theatre-going demographic.

That it does not entirely feel like a paint-by-numbers job is down to Firth's ready wit, a cast who appear to enjoy every minute, and a production by Hamish McColl of The Right Size that brings some of the techniques of 21st-century theatre to a show that might otherwise look very creaky indeed. There may be something odd in the way it makes cancer seem cosy, and its portrait of female solidarity is rosy-hued and shirks issues of ambition and fulfilment in favour of happy-ever-afters. And though it is always too tasteful to offer either real physical or emotional nakedness, McColl's production and Robert Jones's clever design has a pared-down quality that allows the emotions to flourish like the sunflowers that become the women's symbol. There is a wonderful moment when letters flutter from the sky.

Patricia Hodge brings enormous dignity to Annie, whose husband's death inspires the calendar, Lynda Bellingham is terrific as Chris, whose motives become suspect, and Siân Phillips commands the stage as the elderly school teacher, Jessie, who knows how to live. It's guff, but guff that warms the cockles of the heart.

Lyn Gardner – The Guardia

 

 

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aTim Firth also wrote the sceenplay for the - now famous - film, CALENDAR GIRLS starring Helen Mirren and Julie Walters. The film went to number one in the UK, becoming one of the most successful British films of all time and one of the top fifty grossing films in UK cinema history.
 
a CALENDAR GIRLS broke box office records and became the fastest-selling tour in UK theatre history and with a glowing set of reviews from all over the country.

aScripts, CDs and DVDs of Tim Firth's work are available.