Calendar Girls (Prince Moo) – theatre review

Calendar Girls was a real hoot when it came out as a movie featuring Helen Mirren and Julie Walters in 2003. I wish I could say the same about the play I saw at the Athenaeum Theatre – but in all good conscience I can’t.

Tim Firth adapted the script from his hit film, which was based on an inspiring true story. A group of women – members of the Yorkshire Women’s Institute – spark a global phenomenon by persuading one another to pose au naturelle for a charity calendar. As interest snowballs, they find themselves revealing more than they’d ever planned.

It all begins when Annie’s husband, John, dies of leukaemia. She and best friend Chris agree to raise money for the Leukaemia Research Fund. They intend to buy a new couch for the local hospital waiting room, where they spent so many uncomfortable hours. With a helping hand from a hospital porter and an amateur photographer, they manage to persuade fellow Institute members to pose discreetly nude with them for an “alternative” calendar. News of the women’s charitable venture spreads like wildfire and hordes of media descend upon the small village of Knapeley in the Yorkshire Dales. The calendar is a success. But Chris and Annie’s friendship is put to the test under the strain of their newfound fame.

One of the best selling plays in British theatrical history, Calendar Girls opened at the Chichester Festival Theatre in 2008. It hit London’s West End the following year. I found this production dull and dated. For all the great one-liners, it also lacked humour. In two hours of show, excluding interval, at a pinch I had two mild chuckles. Around me too, the laughter was decidedly weak.

The staging was minimalist and, quite frankly, I couldn’t wait for it to end. I dare say you would get a lot more out of Calendar Girls if you haven’t seen on stage or screen it before. In any event, I suppose a second viewing would almost inevitably fall flat because you would have heard and seen the “jokes” and interplay between the women. Even so, in this case I didn’t warm to many of the performances (there are 13 actors, of which arguably the best known is Tottie Goldsmith), while a number of the accents sounded artificial.

Pity about it all, because I was in the right frame of mind to be entertained. Exiting the theatre, I couldn’t help think I’d seen a rather amateurish version of Calendar Girls. Directed by Peter J. Snee, it is playing at the Athenaeum Theatre until 7 October 2017.

Alex First

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