On Stage: Calendar Girls

Six female Calendar Girls cast members exposed more than their acting skills on the opening night of the play at Melbourne’s Athenaeum Theatre.

The Calendar Girls preparing for the photo shoot- from left Tottie Goldsmith (Celia), Kate Gorman (Cora), Francesca Waters (Jessie), Jenny Seedsman (Chris) and Abi Richardson (Annie).

The Calendar Girls preparing for the photo shoot- from left Tottie Goldsmith (Celia), Kate Gorman (Cora), Francesca Waters (Jessie), Jenny Seedsman (Chris) and Abi Richardson (Annie).*

Their willingness to appear just about naked, with the exception of a couple of strategically placed props, was warmly rewarded by the audience. And of course, given the play’s storyline, taking their clothes off was essential!

Tottie Goldsmith in Calendar Girls.

Tottie Goldsmith in Calendar Girls.*

Calendar Girls is based on the true story of the Yorkshire Women’s Institute who sparked a global phenomenon by persuading one another to pose au naturale for a charity calendar with a difference.

After Annie’s husband John dies of leukaemia, she and Chris, her best friend and fellow WI member, agree to raise money for the Leukaemia Research Fund to purchase a new couch in the local hospital waiting room where they spent so many uncomfortable hours.

They manage to persuade fellow WI members to pose discreetly nude with them for an “alternative” calendar, with a little help from a local amateur photographer.

Jenny Seedsman (Chris), Abi Richardson (Annie) and John Voce (John) in Calendar Girls.

Jenny Seedsman (Chris), Abi Richardson (Annie) and John Voce (John) in Calendar Girls.*

The news of the women’s charitable venture spreads around the world and hordes of media soon descend on the small village of Knapeley in the Yorkshire Dales. Overnight the women became famous. This fame severely tests Chris and Annie’s friendship and impacts on all the women involved.

The movie of the women’s story, released in 2003, was a smash hit.  Tim Firth who wrote the movie also wrote this stage play, which debuted in London’s West End in 2009.

This new production comes from local company Prince Moo Production and features an all Australian cast. Watching some of our most experienced actresses in action is one of the joys of the show.

The Calendar Girls from left – Lulu McClatchy (Ruth), Kate Gorman (Cora), Tottie Goldsmith (Celia),Francesca Waters (Jessie) and Jenny Seedsman (Chris).*

Jenny Seedsman (Chris), Abi Richardson (Annie), Tottie Goldsmith (Celia), Lulu McClatchy (Ruth), Kate Gorman (Cora) and Francesca Waters (Jessie) all did a great job with their characters and were believable. Their comic timing was spot on.

They are well supported by Fiona Stewart (Brenda/ Mrs Cravenshire), Lise Rodgers (Marie) and Jennifer Sarah Dean (Elaine) and the male cast which included John Voce as John and Jonathan Peck as the photographer Lawrence.

The cast in action.

The cast in action.*

While there were plenty of laughs – especially when the women pose for the calendar, there were also several rather sad and moving scenes. After all it was John’s death from cancer which resulted in the production of the calendar. The script also addresses, albeit briefly, such issues as society’s attitude towards older women, the reason for the women taking part in the photo shoot and the `politics’ involved within a Women’s Institute.

But mostly Calendar Girls is a feel good play as are the achievements of the women on whom the story is based. As the play’s program explains, eleven women aged between 45 and 65 were involved in the first calendar which was produced in 1999. Since then over $8 million has been raised for cancer research.

The importance of the need for this research was emphasised after the production with cast members ‘manning’ the doors with buckets to accept donations from the audience for cancer research.

Calendar Girls is playing at the Athenaeum Theatre until October 7. For more information and tickets visit the Calendar Girls website.

*Photo credit: Natalie Risely.

Jenny Burns attended the opening night of Calendar Girls as a guest of the Prince Moo Productions.

Visit travelswithjb.com.au-live shows for more show reviews.

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