Arena Theatre presents Tim Firth's
Directed by Alan Colclough with permission from Samuel French
When Annie's husband dies of leukaemia, she and best friend Chris resolve to raise money for a new settee in the local hospital waiting room. They manage to persuade four fellow Women's Institute members, Cora, Celia, Ruth and Jessie, to pose nude with them for an "alternative" calendar, with a little help from hospital porter and amateur photographer Lawrence.
- Performance Dates
- There are no scheduled performances of this production.
Terri Jowett - Calendar Girls - readthrough and audition 12/10/2011
The readthrough for Calendar Girls will take place on Monday, 28 November 2011 at 7.30pm - Avonbourne School. Auditions will also take place at Avonbourne School on Monday, 5 December 2011 - 7.30pm
SWANAGE is perhaps not usually the kind of place one might expect to see naked ladies performing on stage and yet, as I sit here waiting for curtain up, that is exactly what lies ahead! Now most of us will know the storyline of 'Calendar Girls' from the highly successful 1993 film starring Helen Mirren and Julie Walters and the more theatrically astute amongst you will be aware that the play has just been released for amateur groups to perform. Indeed, at last count there are 6 local productions planned in the next 3 months and today - the 1st of September - is the first performance date possible and so here I am at the regional premiere. From the play’s outset, you can't help but feel the contagious energy and camaraderie from the cast. From the first laugh, (literally a minute in) to the end of the show, the whole company and the core 6 leading ladies especially, seem to almost effervesce on stage. With the cast so at ease and enjoying themselves, it was easy for the audience to feel instantly relaxed and therefore be able to fully engage with the show without trepidation. What ensued were some superb individual and group performances and the audience being reduced to both tears of laughter and I’d imagine some tears of sadness as the show unfolded. This was a play built on the success of its casting and was a show with virtually no weak links. Of course, the problem this gives me as a reviewer is that there isn't enough space in this review to really tell you how great each of them was, but in a bid to capture the essence of what was so good let me give you a quick rundown... The 6 leading ladies were each superb in their carefully crafted personas. Pamela Brewer who plays Jessie was just so natural on stage it made her really easy to watch – her characterisation seemed effortless. She had an understated confidence and delivered her often deadpan humour with clinical excellence! Rachael Cheeseman as Ruth, who begins the story as the prudish and naive lady of the group, effectively took the audience with her on her journey of growth and self-discovery and allowed us to see her transformation and her personal victories unfold before our eyes. Valerie Gillard as the spirited Celia did a good job putting across the rebellious and sexually charged persona by way of the character’s obvious enjoyment and confidence in her own body, but did so without robbing the role of its needed pockets of vulnerability which make the explanation of her past and the way others have sought to control and repress her believable for the audience. Shelley Gould as Cora was excellent. She had superb comic timing (tough with so many one liners) but also possessed a genuineness in her portrayal of the part which made her character incredibly likeable and so meant the audience had great closure when she got what she longer for in the end (also, worth mentioning some great singing vocals!) Finally, we have Jane Taylor as Chris and Louise Thomas as Annie, both of whom are incredibly versatile actresses. They held the whole piece together for me – not only through their individual performances but also with their on stage chemistry. Not a comic line was lost and Jane especially excelled in this. While also possessing great timing, Louise’s forte was her ability to take the audience with her on her emotionally journey of loss, fear, pain and finally hope. Two very strong (and obviously important) performances. While these 6 ladies really were the stars for me, the supporting cast each played their parts well and as a very quick aside it’s worth mentioning that Lee Tilson as John packed a real punch in his supporting role performance and that Joe Kelly as Lawrence should also get a mention for his brilliant comic awkwardness! Ultimately the show isn't really about getting naked (even if that is your first thought when “Calendar Girls” is mentioned). Instead, this is a play which has - at the heart of it - the real life journeys we all have experienced. The excellent script coupled with this perfectly chosen cast successfully conveys a back-story for each character which all of us can relate to in some way. The interweaving of the comic and more poignant elements of the story mean that although the audience was laughing one minute, they were sharing in a character’s pain the next as each character continued their journeys through loss, ageing, bereavement or the need to belong. Yes, cancer is the spectre hanging over the events in Calendar Girls, but it never spoils the party. Indeed, it’s not really dwelt upon and the conclusion of the piece, in spite of the preceding tragedy, is a celebration of those who continue to live through it and fight it every day. This powerful emotional undercurrent was not lost from this show. Indeed, credit should go to both the director (Alan Colclough) and the cast for not overplaying the comedy or the sad reality of the play, but keeping them both in tension. In conclusion, there has been a trend in recent years in amateur theatre to strive to ‘maximise’ (and often over-use) technical wizardry, fancy costumes, overly pretentious staging and elaborate sets almost as if we needed to remind ourselves we're in the 21st century. For me, this production was a shining example of how a simple set, great use of lighting and props, some well thought through and effective direction and – perhaps most of all - excellent casting when coupled with a rich, hilariously funny script can make for a fantastic night out without all the pretence. One can only presume that with 4 days until the second opening at the Regent Centre in Christchurch that the success of this evening can only lead to greater things next week. My advice to you, therefore, is simple - if there are tickets left at the Regent Centre, go and buy them! And then, tell your friends to do the same. There may be lots of productions of this show out there right now, and I'm sure they're all equally excellent, but for me this one got it all just right and had something special about the atmosphere which made it one to watch for me. Well done Arena, and especially well done to those 6 wonderful ladies. (p.s. If you’d sold those calendars as souvenirs in the foyer after the show, I reckon you’d have made a killing!)
Bournemouth Echo - Letter's Page
HATS off (and indeed everything else!) to the cast and crew of Arena Theatre’s production of Calendar Girls at The Regent Centre in Christchurch last week. Like many others I am sure, I saw and loved the film with Helen Mirren and a stalwart cast of great British actors. I then saw a very polished production at The Mayflower a couple of years ago with such luminaries as Lynda Bellingham and Sheila Hancock. But Arena Theatre’s version brought an extra quality to the story. A simple but effective stage setting meant the focus was all on the dialogue and the acting. Under director Alan Colclough, a strong cast exuded an earthiness and warmth that made the audience feel we knew these characters personally, that we were members of their WI and that any minute now we might be jumping up and shouting “I’ll be October!” A true heart-felt piece of theatre with a beautiful balance between humour and pathos. Congratulations to all. CHARLIE ROSE, Solent Road, Walkford HATS off (and indeed everything else!) to the cast and crew of Arena Theatre’s production of Calendar Girls at The Regent Centre in Christchurch last week. Like many others I am sure, I saw and loved the film with Helen Mirren and a stalwart cast of great British actors. I then saw a very polished production at The Mayflower a couple of years ago with such luminaries as Lynda Bellingham and Sheila Hancock. But Arena Theatre’s version brought an extra quality to the story. A simple but effective stage setting meant the focus was all on the dialogue and the acting. Under director Alan Colclough, a strong cast exuded an earthiness and warmth that made the audience feel we knew these characters personally, that we were members of their WI and that any minute now we might be jumping up and shouting “I’ll be October!” A true heart-felt piece of theatre with a beautiful balance between humour and pathos. Congratulations to all. CHARLIE ROSE, Solent Road, Walkford
Stour & Avon Magazine PS
What a scoop for Christchurch-based Arena Theatre to be amongst the first to produce Calendar Girls, just released for amateur companies to perform. The true story of the Yorkshire Women's Institute ladies who created an alternative calendar in 2000 is inspiring and from that, and the blockbuster film which followed, there was worldwide interest. Now, in this stage version, all the aspects - tragic and triumphant, funny and fustrating - are exposed, explored and enjoyed. The husband of one of the WI ladies is the pivot on which the story revolves and as John, who dies from Leukaemia, Lee Tilson is magnificent. Bringing pathos and realism to the part, yet inspiring everyone with hope for the future, he brings a tear to the eye and a smile to the lips. His widow Annie - played with a touching mix of grief and determination by Louise Thomas - and her best friend Chris (perfectly characterised by Jane Taylor) defy the daunting Marie, a well-paced portrayal by Jane Haynes. The two are joined by Jessie (Pamela Brewer captures the cynical humour splendidly) and Ruth - how well Rachael Cheesman plays the insecure woman who faces her demons - plus the posh Celia, who famously needs "bigger buns" (the perfect role for Valerie Gillard) in a radical fundraising idea. Single mum Cora - the musical and magical Shelley Gould - is the the final calendar girl and the scene where they pose nude with such WI props as teapot and cup, a floral arrangement, marmalade making equipment and balls of knitting wool brings the house down. Joe Kelly as Lawrence, the shy photographer complements the action beautifully while Kate Claxton, playing dual roles and Jill Richmond who is the beautician add their expertise. With cameo appearances, Richard Facer and Jason Green complete a well-balanced and capable line-up. Director Alan Colclough brings out the contrasting emotions of this heartwarming play and gets the very best from his talented cast. Plaudits should also go to the lighting and sound teams, plus the wonderful photographs on stage and in the programme. The main accolade must however be awarded to the Super Six calendar girls who bared all - or nearly all - in such a tasteful and professional way. Look out for them and Arena Theatre later this year in the West End and Broadway smash-hit show Jerusalem (no mention of jam) and in 2013. You will not be disappointed. PS