REVIEW: Calendar Girls (Auckland Theatre Company)

Calendar Girs

Tastefully titillating theatre [by Sharu Delilkan]

Calendar Girs

Leaving home yesterday evening on the way to the city to watch Auckland Theatre Company’s stage production of the infamous Calendar Girls brought its own set of surprises.

I innocently said to my mate who was giving me a ride to the city  “I’m going to Calendar Girls today”.  To which I got this euphoric response “Woo-hoo – I want to come too.”  It took me a split second to realise that she was not talking about Tim Firth’s play but was instead referring to the new establishment on K’Rd which is Auckland’s latest ‘gentlemen’s club’, billed as the city’s first five-star establishment of that genre.

I soon cleared up the miscommunication between chuckles and made my way to The Civic. 

Being opening night I was greeted by a sea of familiar faces.  Admittedly, having loved the movie of the same name, I was filled with anticipation as I entered the electric-charged theatre.

The positive energy from the people in the audience was a refreshing change from the often-critical audience that tend to attend these opening night shows.

The modestly decorated stage with classic old chairs and a lampshade that is perpetually askew made me feel right at home, since we live in a 1920’s bungalow and have the exact chairs and a similar lampshade that constantly drives me up the wall.

The use of multi-media such as a screen projection and subtle lighting allows much latitude for a multitude of the film’s elements to be incorporated into the stage production.

The show opens with the six leading ladies Alison Bruce (Celia), Hera Dunleavy (Ruth), Kate-Louise Elliott (Cora), Theresa Healey (Annie), Jennifer Ludlam (Chris) and Alison Quigan (Jessie), doing Tai Chi on the Yorkshire Dales (projected in the background).  But the seemingly serious activity soon turns to custard as each of the character’s quirks are revealed through their hilarious comments and funny movements.

Credit should go to director Colin McColl for perfectly casting all the women,who seemed to embody the characters as if they were their own.   All the actors appear to be having tons of fun on stage and this comes across in a very lovely warm and fuzzy production that will please many.

“I have never had a problem with age – it has only ever had a problem with me” is one of many clever lines in this Firth classic, which sums up the fighting spirit and feisty humour of ‘middle aged’ Women’s Institute members that decide to strip off for a charitable calendar.

The pace and energy of the opening night performance deserves commendation, particularly since many productions take at least a week to iron out the kinks. 

Special mention has to be given to Rima Te Wiata for her triple character changes as Brenda Hulse (the guest speaker for the Women’s Institute discussing the merits of broccoli), Lady Cravenshire and the common red-headed beautician hussey Elaine.

Two other characters worth noting include Elliott’s Cora and Greg Johnson’s John, Annie’s husband who is diagnosed with a terminal illness.  Even before finding out that Elliott had learned the piano especially for the role, I had been mesmerised by both her playing and singing.  And Johnson’s commitment to the role was evident by the fact that he actually shaved his head for the part.  Just quietly, he did admit to me at the after party that he had removed “all the hair on his body to help get into character”!

The multiple male characters in the show, in addition to Johnson’s, are overshadowed in terms of stage time but definitely not in impact.  Memorably performances from a cast of respected male actors include Adam Gardiner (Liam), Andrew Grainger (Rod), Harry McNaughton (Lawrence).

With plenty of ‘oo-er missus’ Last of the Summer Wine type humour, it’s a family friendly show with tastefully treated nudity and naughtiness with just the right amount of decorum.

And of course titillation abounds with peeks of flesh revealed, nicely framed by the traditional Women’s Institute fare of jams, pickles, flowers and knitting.

If I had to fault the production at all I’d suggest that the coveted scene of the film where the nude photos are taken, could be tightened a tad and the memorable line of “we’re going to need considerably bigger buns” could be given a bit more prominence.

Otherwise it’s got all the makings of a light-hearted show that all of us crave, laced with a tinge of sadness.  I for one found myself laughing and crying at the same time – something that’s definitely worthy of a look in whatever stage of life you’re in.

The after party in the Wintergarden was equally charged.  Everyone seemed happy and full of life, devouring the ‘very English’ scones, cupcakes and delicately made sandwiches with their pinkies out in form.

And as we walked up from the Wintergarden to leave, one of my mates shouted out to people passing us on the stairs – “We’re off to the White Lady, wanna join us.”  To which someone replied “That’s odd I’m sure you said you were off to Calendar Girls.”  Talk about coming full circle.

Calendar Girls is presented by Auckland Theatre Company and plays at The Civic until 20th August.

More information at Auckland Theatre Company website.

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