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Calendar Girls (Susan Elkin reviews)

Calendar Girls

Based on the Miramax Film screenplay by Juliette Towhide and Tim Firth

Directed by Sally Hughes

The Mill at Sonning

 Star rating: 3

There aren’t many stories which pack more cheesiness and feel-good factor than Calendar Girls, especially for a Mill at Sonning matinee audience who’ve just eaten a good lunch. Most of them will remember the real life story of the Knapley WI calendar breaking across local, national and international news media. Then there was a film, and a play and a musical version. And I must say it’s refreshing to see the play version (again) because not everything needs to be a musical – although these days nearly everything seems to be.

Just in case you’ve been on another planet for the last quarter of a century, Calendar Girls is about a group of WI members who created a calendar, wittily inspired by Pirelli, using cakes and so forth for “modesty”. The purpose was to create a memorial to the husband of one of the the members who had died of cancer and was much loved by everyone.

Of course we’re in Yorkshire so everyone needs a Yorkshire accent and it more or less works in this decent enough production, notwithstanding occasional shrillness.

It’s a large cast of twelve most of whom are competent deliverers of good lines – plenty of those in this play – and able to bounce  off each other. Rachel Fielding is pushy, well meaning warm and funny as Chris and Natalie Ogle is moving as the diminutive, sad but feisty as the bereaved Annie. Sarah Whitlock is fun as the older Jessie who taught them all at school.

A word of praise too for Oscar Cleaver in his first job. He plays both the nervous but skilled calendar photographer and, later, a slimy gor-blimey TV ad cameraman. Cleaver is richly (and entertainingly) believable in both roles and he talks with his eyes very convincingly.

All this is played out on the Mill’s quite large playing space which director Sally Hughes knows exactly how to get the best from. The rather neat set (Terry Parsons) creates countryside out of the Knapley Village Hall simply by closing two flaps. Graham Weymouth’s evocative sound track includes – of course – lots of snippets of Parry’s Jerusalem which is the WI’s anthem.

There is nothing – absolutely nothing – remotely cutting edge or innovative about this show. Everyone in the audience knows what to expect and gets it:  cosy, safe fare for a Saturday afternoon. Bit like Yorkshire tea really. Very pleasant but unremarkable.

Author information
Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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