Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

Flash Bang Wallop

Picture: Brian J Groom

Calendar Girls

Sutton Arts Theatre


IT'S A RARE thing of beauty when an act of daring charitable goodwill becomes the basis of fictional writing but then by doing so eventually returns full circle for that act to be recreated again with benefits, perhaps many times over.

In 1998 the Rylstone Women's Institute caused a media sensation when they starred in and produced a nude calendar that was dedicated to John Baker who had died from Leukaemia. Their hope was that it would raise a few hundred pounds to replace a sofa at the local hospital. 

The story may well have faded into old news if it had not been for Tim Firth who in 2003 turned the event into the screenplay and film Calendar Girls. The film went on to win a host of awards including Best Comedy and Golden Globe nominations for two of its stars Helen Mirren and Julie Walters. 

In 2005, Firth adapted the script into a play and it has been on a professional national tour for a while but now, and for just the next 18 months, it's been granted amateur licences. 

In doing so he has unwittingly completed a reality loop like no other play has ever done before. Unlike the film or professional performances we are never really witness to the real drama of a bunch of ordinary lasses braving all for the camera. We know they are professionals with the time to light and position everything and no doubt also received a considerable fee. Where's the real risk in that?

However on the stage of Sutton Arts there is no such luxury or reward and this powerhouse of a cast have recreated a sentiment true to the original act that is in many ways even more daring, as quite obviously there is now an audience. The circle is made final as they too have also created their own Calendar Girls Calendar for sale during the performance, the proceeds of which go to Leukaemia Research.  So you see this has become more than just a play.

It is this fact that makes the work of these Non-professionals so compelling and applaudable .They are appearing nude and doing it for real and for the first time.


It's not all about stripping off though as whilst the central act of baring all is still key to the central theme,  Firths play skilfully  opens the door to life in the Dales , the district snobbery and the complexity of a series of failing relationships and these issues were all handled with real depth.

The play moves from comedy to intense emotion in a moment and a fiery interchange between the lead characters of Chris ( Denise Phillips) and Annie (Elena Serafinas) stunned the audience into silence after the cat calls and laughter. Louise Farmer did a good job as Ruth the quiet victim who after her nude session finally gathers the strength to break out from her downtrodden character . Finally it would not be right to not mention Faye Arrowsmith, Deborah Loweth and Dorothy Goodwin who all with great confidence appeared `Nude' not naked .

Whilst the ladies will no doubt be remembered for being more visible than most they were ably supported by the entire cast with some fine performances throughout.

I also have to fully complement the prop and staging department whose work and constant resetting of the stage helped make this such an excellent performance.

It's likely that you will see fair amount of similar amateur productions of Calendar Girls appearing across the UK in the coming year but they will have to work hard to beat this one.

A few times in the past you might have read that something is unmissable but I can say fully without reserve this time that comment really applies and I guarantee you will enjoy it. I don't think there has ever been a blurring of the narrative and players in a performance quite like this. You can't act Nude. You either are or you are not.  

The cast were brilliant and I take my hat off to them for their bravery and acting composure and unlike the ladies that's all I will be removing.  

Jeff Grant 

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