A review of Calendar Girls by Emily Thwaite

Lynda Bellingham
Lynda Bellingham

CALENDAR Girls is playing at the Futurist Theatre, Scarborough this week - until Saturday, September 24.

The show is based on the 2003 film, which in turn was based on the real life story of a small Women’s Institute group making an ‘alternative’ fund-raising calendar in 1998.

Thirteen years on, at the opening night in Scarborough, there was a real buzz of anticipation outside the theatre on the sea-front.

Whether fans of the film, people keen to see television ‘names’ on stage, or regulars at the Futurist, everyone was there to be entertained. And everyone would also have known someone affected by cancer. John Baker, for whom the original calendar was made, died from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a blood cancer.

This production is a successful combination of very entertaining humour and moving human moments.

Audience members share the fun and the sorrow.

There are roars of support for the women daring to bare all for the tastefully nude (not naked) calendar photographs.

Quoting the WI’s adopted anthem, Jerusalem, people are treated to many a ‘countenance divine’, with only a fleeting glimpse of ‘pleasant pastures’ - countryside and flowers are a recurrent theme, references to ‘God’s own county’ of Yorkshire naturally getting appreciative applause here in Scarborough. (The biggest laugh of the evening involves Harrogate.)

John describes women as being like flowers, beautiful at every stage, with the last stage being the most glorious. This show certainly presents middle aged women as liberated, strong and very likeable.

That poetic tribute to women is then undercut by a comment about ‘going to seed’ - in a typically English way, nothing is allowed to take itself too seriously.

Humour is used to protect, against even terminal illness.

John’s death is actually very imaginatively portrayed, with him simply getting up out of his wheelchair, leaving it empty on stage. Annie, his wife, quietly leans against it.

Sunflowers are the emblem of ‘Calendar Girls’ - a lesson in life, they find the sun wherever it might be.

The show ends with a life-affirming scene amongst these blooms, conflicts having been resolved and the future in clear view.

This is certainly a group show, with the whole cast complementing each other, but mention must be made of Deena Payne (from Emmerdale) who has stepped in to play Cora, with great style, at the last minute. And Lynda Bellingham, who plays Chris, is a real ‘tour de force’.

The show’s producers donate a percentage of profits to Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research - in 2010, this had reached £500,000.

Tickets can be booked in person at the box office or on (01723) 365789/374500.

There is currently a discount offer, when booking for Calendar Girls, on tickets for next spring’s West End musical Dreamboats and Petticoats.