Calendar Girls. Sarah Whitlock Debbie Arnold Basienka Blake Nataloe Ogle Rachel Fielding. Photo by Andreas Lambis.

Calendar Girls by Tim Firth | The Mill at Sonning | Review

The true story of Calendar Girls launched a global phenomenon. A group of women, members of the Knapely (Yorkshire) branch of the Women’s Institute, posed naked for a calendar intended to raise £500 for a new sofa for the cancer wing of Skipton Hospital. Within a few months £500,000 had been raised!

A successful film was made in 2003; then Tim Firth adapted his screenplay into a play for the stage, first seen at Chichester in 2008, to be followed some years later by a musical version.

Calendar Girls. Sarah Whitlock Debbie Arnold Basienka Blake Nataloe Ogle Rachel Fielding. Photo by Andreas Lambis.
Calendar Girls. Sarah Whitlock Debbie Arnold Basienka Blake Nataloe Ogle Rachel Fielding. Photo by Andreas Lambis.

The play is at its best in Act Two when those who took part in the calendar find it difficult to cope with their fame, especially once the thousands of letters start to pour in. At times the writing is very poignant, whereas Act One concentrates more on the humour of the situation and the reactions of others.

Annie, whose husband John has been diagnosed with terminal leukaemia, is beautifully played by Natalie Ogle, coping well with the rather stereotypical characterisation Firth gives her. Her friend Chris, whose idea the calendar is, is in the very enthusiastic hands of Rachel Fielding. She has the lightness of touch that the role demands, as well as the energy to push the play along when the writing flags. John himself is subtly acted by Andrew Ryan.

Sarah Whitlock is totally believable in the role of retired primary school teacher, Jessie and Ruth, a carpet dealer’s wife who is very reticent about being photographed for the calendar, is very timidly portrayed by Clara Janson. But in a large ensemble cast of twelve there is not a weak link, helped by Sally Hughes imaginative direction.

The set design by Terry Parsons is superb! When we enter the auditorium we are met by a huge canvas of the Yorkshire Dales. The perspective is so realistic that it really does seem as if Yorkshire extends all the way south to Berkshire! The set then simply transforms into the Knapely Village Hall and a W. I. meeting!

As always at The Mill at Sonning a delicious two-course meal is served pre-show as part of the ‘package’ . Every time I visit I am surprised at the quality and variety of the food that is offered: in this case a roast, fish, steak pie, vegetarian option as well as fresh, usually local, vegetables PLUS desserts to die for…

Those who regularly attend the Mill at Sonning will need no further recommendation from me, those who have not are missing a real treat!! Highly recommended!

4 Stars

Review by John Groves

This heartwarming and hilarious play by Tim Firth is based on a true story and the hit 2003 film.

When Annie’s husband dies of leukemia, she and her best friend Chris decide to raise funds for the local hospital. Despite raised eyebrows from the local community they create a calendar featuring themselves and their friends from the Women’s Institute…in tastefully nude poses.

As they embark on their fundraising journey over the seasons, the friends discover a newfound sense of confidence and sisterhood, breaking free from societal expectations of middle age. And as the word begins to spread, these Calendar Girls begin to turn heads and capture hearts around the world.

Destined to make you laugh, make you cry and make you blush! CALENDAR GIRLS is a glorious celebration of friendship, community, and the power of ordinary people to make a difference.

Debbie Arnold (Cora)
Basienka Blake (Celia)
Oscar Cleaver (Lawrence/Liam)
Elizabeth Elvin (Marie)
Rachel Fielding (Chris)
Kitty Harris (Elaine)
Ciara Janson (Ruth)
Natalie Ogle (Annie)
Dawn Perllman (Brenda Hulse/Lady Cravenshire)
Steven Pinder (Rod)
Andrew Ryan (John)
Sarah Whitlock (Jessie)

Creative Team:
Director: Sally Hughes
Set Designer: Terry Parsons
Costume Designer: Natalie Titchener
Lighting Designer: Matthew Biss
Sound Design: Technical Team at The Mill at Sonning
Casting: Kate Plantin CDG

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