Palace Theatre, Westcliff
Friday 7th September 2012
This September marks the beginning of 18 months of amateur rights to Tim Firth's smash hit stage interpretation of this heart-warming tale, made internationally famous by the film version in 2003. With over 350 amateur groups granted permission to perform in just a year and a half, we are set to be overrun with brave ladies posing behind sticky buns and in front of pianos, as the number of performances collectively breaks a Guinness world record.
LTC are a relatively large scale society, performing in the impressive venue of the Palace Theatre with high production values. A beautiful set depicted the Knapely Village Hall ideally, whisked away to reveal the Yorkshire Dales on a lovely painted backdrop. The vast array of props and furniture were sourced or made with skill and each fitted its purpose perfectly, with particular attention to the important set pieces framing the ladies calendar poses. Costumes were also good, with numerous simple changes all suiting each character well and helping to depict the passage of time.
With a younger average age than perhaps reflects most WI groups, the core cast seemed to get along excellently, and all showed great commitment to their characterisations. The part of Chris is imperative to the telling of this inspirational story, and Sally Lightfoot did an excellent job of carrying both the energy and humour of the whole play with her performance. Relaxed and comfortable on stage, she was a pleasure to watch. Judy Laurence as Annie played the overshadowed best friend with generosity, allowing the pathos of her character's story to make her portrayal a perfectly pitched, quiet contrast against the fire of Chris' character.
The rest of the group did a good job of developing the of each of the women and defining each individual personality, and all six of the leading ladies deserve much kudos for their commitment to the iconic final scene of Act One, which was staged excellently. Some nice supporting performances too from the rest of the cast, and I am sure that Dave Lobley's Flowers of Yorkshire speech as John dampened more than a few eyes in the audience.
A great start to the inevitably saturated market of Calendar Girls productions over the next 18 months, but with such a wonderful script and raising money for such a worthy cause, surely audiences will be delighted to see this moving, captivating play over and over again.