Sincerely glad I made a date with Calendar Girls

Calendar Girls
Calendar Girls

REVIEW: ‘CALENDAR GIRLS’, DUNS PLAYERS, DUNS VOLUNTEER HALL

IN their programme notes directors Eloner Crawford and Peter Lerpiniere mentioned the perhaps over-used phrase ‘the feel good factor’, but rather than the four words being dismissed as a reality TV cliche I couldn’t think of a better way to describe what this show had.

But that’s not to say it was belly laughs all the way. Anyone who thought this was going to be a silly show all about ladies of a certain age whipping their clothes off would have been sorely disappointed but anyone wanting to have their socks knocked off by some fine acting and enjoy a ride on one hell of an emotional rollercoaster will have gone home happy.

There simply isn’t enough room on this page to get across how much the talented cast and crew of Duns Players impressed me on their opening night of a three night run last week.

There was not a hint of first night nerves (which would have been particularly acceptable given the circumstances) and instead, although the script could well have had them reaching for hankies as it did the audience, the cast put in performances that showed why in some cases amateur productions are anything but.

As the ladies of the Knapley WI Carol Robson (Chris), Shirley Redpath (Annie), Lynn Gray (Cora), Helen Forsyth (Jessie), Christine Sclater (Celia) and Emma Taylor (Ruth) were easy to relate to and perhaps most importantly given the tone of the play, easy to take to your heart.

Leukaemia is something that unfortunately affects many people’s lives but the way Shirley and her on stage husband Jerry Ponder (John) depicted the relationship of a couple struggling to come to terms with its impact on their life was nothing short of heartbreaking. Jerry’s journey from a fun loving man to a wheelchair bound shadow of John’s former self was poignant and real as was Shirley’s portrayal of a wife who like so many others always try to look on the bright side whilst fearing the worst.

It was John’s death which led to the famous ‘nude’ calendar but away from the strategically placed buns and teacups each WI lady had their own story and each cast member excelled in unravelling the twists and turns of their respective sagas.

Helen Forsyth was fantastic as a school teacher who was desperate to have some fun outside of the classroom; Christine Sclater embraced everything about being fabulous in later life; Lynn Gray was terrific as the bold, brassy vicar’s daughter who had issues with her own offspring and Emma Taylor was a revelation as the ditzy, unassuming Ruth who found some strong, independent woman spirit on discovering her husband’s affair with a beautician.

Annie’s closest ally and often her shoulder to cry on was Chris but the overnight fame that came with covering her modesty with a flower arrangement transformed her into a showbiz wannabe from hell.

Carol Robson oozed the feistiness required when Chris was at her most fame hungry but also the vulnerability when she realised she had gone too far.

Although it is the six ladies who deservedly take the large share of the plaudids they were by no means let down by their supporting actors. Kate Lester had more than a hint of Hyacinth Bucket (it’s Bouquet!) as the straight laced WI chair Marie; Barry Jones got plenty of laughs as Cris’ other half Rod; Genny Dixon could be whisked off to Downton in a heartbeat if her Lady Cravenshire was anything to go by and Sarah Aitken and Tim Binney hammed it up to OTT perfection in the roles of Elaine and Liam. And then there was DC as Lawrence, the man tasked with photographing the WI ladies in the next to nothing. I’ve deliberately left that bit near to the end so not to detract from the tour de force acting performances we all witnessed on opening night but I have to say hats off, or rather everything off, to the superb six for being so brave!

Praise to for Eloner and Peter for getting the best out of a fantastic script and a talented and committed cast and to their backstage crew for ensuring the only things that slipped on opening night were the ladies’ dressing gowns!

‘Calendar Girls’ was one of THE best things I’ve ever reviewed for the paper and I’m sure its legacy will last much longer than 12 months.