Calendar Girls
Tim Firth
26 - 29 Jun 2013

For their summer production, Jubilee Players took on the challenge of Tim Firth’s ‘Calendar Girls’. Not only is it a challenging piece for the cast, but the majority of the audience will already have had their preconceptions formed by Helen Mirren and Julie Walters. However, no-one will have left Horstead Tithe Barn in any way disappointed by the quality of the production, as not only ‘the girls’ but the supporting characters responded enthusiastically to Neil Phillips sharp direction.

Perhaps the key to the success was the casting. Cara (Sue Brooks), Chris (Rosalind Chamberlin), Annie (Sue Phillips), Jessie (Cynthia Gosling), Celia (Sue Brodie) and Ruth (Hannah Groves) established their characters in a wholly convincing manner, their differing responses to the ‘naughtiness’ of the proposal to pose for the calendar setting the scene for the development of the plot. Their deception of the pompous WI chairwoman, Marie (Jane Risebrow), unites them in their determination to see through the apparently crazy project.

The first half of the play in which the death of Annie’s husband, John (Neil Phillips) from leukaemia - which provides the justification for substituting middle-aged glamour for jam and Jerusalem - is sensitively treated, as is the emerging tension of the second half that arises between Annie and Chris as celebrity opportunities arrive in sleepy Knapely. The understated humour of the piece is equally well handled, the dialogue providing the characters with the opportunity to hone their timing of one-liners.

The central photography scene was excellent, the apparent chaos disguising a skilfully structured piece of stagecraft, while the speech scene at the WI conference struck just the right note of anxiety and stridency. The emotional ending on ‘John’s hill’, as the sunflowers turn, provided a ‘feel good’ conclusion to a production which would have pleased not only the Tithe Barn audiences but the ‘Leukaemia Research’ charity that will benefit from the ticket sales.

Those holding the performing rights to the play have opened an 18-month window for amateur groups to stage ‘Calendar Girls’, with the proviso that some of the profits are donated to a cancer charity and, unsurprisingly, there has been a proliferation of productions across the country. Few will have bettered this one.

The Marlpit