Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Calendar Girls - Lowry Theatre, Salford

Calendar Girls by Tim Firth
Director: Hamish McColl

Reviewer: Stephanie Rowe

Tim Firth has taken his smash hit film, and adapted it for the stage in this touring production that started life at The Festival Theatre in Chichester during its Summer Season in 2008.

When the women of the WI decide on a new fundraising event to raise money for a new settee in the visitors room of their local hospital, little did they know what exactly would become of such a small town WI calendar and the ladies who dared to pose for it.

We know from the go that this production is going to touch us not only with pathos but with oodles of laughter too, as the show opens with the ladies of the WI partaking in a spot of tai chi to the tones of Cora singing Jerusalem. Who under the strong leadership of Chris (Linda Bellingham)has just so happened to have read a book on the subject, but the story quickly turns to sadness when we find out Annie’s (Patricia Hodge) husband John (played with real emotional weight by Gary Lilburn) has Leukaemia.

Hamish McColl has directed this production with a real empathy but does not let the heavy weight subject of Leukaemia pull the evening down into a melancholic affair, instead we get an uplifting story, which rightly so given the subject matter takes us on an emotional journey of laughter and tears, aided by a beautiful set designed by Robert Jones...and yes Sunflowers are included!

Patricia Hodge gives a heart rendering performance as the widow of a man loved by everyone who met him. Going through the emotions of loss and grief with such passion you really believed her performance. Linda Bellingham really throws her heart and soul into the role of Chris enjoying all the limelight the calendar has bought her, and getting carried along in the whole fame thing.

The rest of the cast also give Stirling performances, bringing an extra layer of believability to the whole story. Brigit Forsyth ( Marie ) has you believing she really is the snobby madam she portrays, who is more interested in her social standing than in her friends. Julia Hills ( Ruth ) has you in pleats as the poor woman who has obviously no confidence in herself that she constantly tries to please everyone.

Elaine C Smith’s performance of Cora makes you understand the trouble she has with her teenage daughter and Sian Phillips portrayal of a retired School teacher was a truly fantastic performance. Gaynor Faye gave a fabulous performance as the golf playing, vodka drinking hussy.

This is one of the most heart warming production I have seen, and with a stellar cast and excellent performances all round, it’s no surprise that this production after a year on the road is West End bound, and long may it play there!

Calendar Girls runs at the Lowry Theatre until Sat 21st March 2009

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