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

A sad tale with a happy ending

Calendar Girls

Swan Theatre Amateur Company, Worcester


THE original Rylstone and District Women's Institute calendar did wonders for Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research, raising more than £3 million – and rising with every amateur production.

And it is doing wonders for amateur companies, invariably putting bums on seats, and, coincidentally also on stage which have made sight lines a headache around the country.

Perhaps that is fitting as John Baker, the real Assistant National Park Officer in the Yorkshire Dales who died of non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 1998 and the real inspiration for what has become a global phenomena, was House Manager and Treasurer of Grassington Players in Skipton for many years.

His wife, Angela and fellow Calendar Girl Lyn Logan had appeared with the players and Miss January, Bertl Bamforth,  now 78, has been an actress and director with the players since 1970.

So the original girls were much closer to amateur theatre than the more Hollywood inspired Tim Firth film.

The stage version of the film is much more difficult to stage than at first appears, after all there are only two sets – the village hall and the Yorkshire Dales, in this production two nicely painted curtains, one of the dales and another of the Dales covered in John's favourite sunflowers.

But rather like a swan moving sedately along with legs going like the clappers under the surface, the difficulties here stem from costume changes and some perhaps took a tad too long which interrupts the flow leaving the production short of pace.

Things seemed to pick up after the interval and you were left wondering if the six main protagonists had been distracted steeling themselves, and their bits, for their big number at the close of act 1.


Strippers will get their kit off at the drop of a hat, that is what they are paid to do, but the prospect of going au natural is rather more daunting for amateur actresses, particularly with friends peering through the darkness.

Which could explain why the second half seemed more relaxed and managed a better rhythm.

Alan Wollaston as John Clarke gave us a cheery soul who slowly went through chemotherapy to his inevitable death and it is a pity the final moments saw sesame seeds confused with sunflower seeds. His death was gently done and his widow Annie, played by STAC regular Jane Lush gave us a measured performance.

Hers is not an easy part giving us both grieving widow and the reluctant figurehead of  the group behind a nude awakening for the Womens' Institute.

The real driving force though is her best friend Chris with the calendar taking over her life to the detriment of the family florist business.

Posh tottie is provided by Louise Broad as Celia who inhabits the golf club she hates merely so she can see her husband; Louise has her own reasons to be in the play as a survivor of breast cancer.

Naïve Ruth, meanwhile is in denial about her husband Eddie's philandering's, played by Cora Jackson, she finds herself through the calendar and finally snaps back when she faces up to Eddie's current bit on the side.

Fran Leighton gives us a gum-chewing rocker in Cora, the vicar's daughter, church organist and unmarried mum while the elder stateswoman is Glynis Smith as the ex-teacher Jessie who has some of the best lines in the play and makes every one of them count, as you would expect from someone who has “grown old and venomous from long exposure to schoolchildren”.


Good support comes from Liz Brand as the pompous chairwoman of the WI branch Marie and Christopher Kingsley as Chris's long suffering husband Rod while there is a nice cameo appearance from Andrew Dunkley as the nervous hospital porter turned photographer Lawrence charged with taking the revealing pictures - without revealing too much.

Director Elizabeth Whitehouse seemed to have got her sightlines pretty well right in the act 1 closing scene when the photographs are taken  and you have to take your hat off to the bottle needed by the intrepid ladies in the cast to take part. One misplaced prop or dropped reflector and more than the plot would have been revealed.

The tale is emotive and Whitehouse made sure it was kept under control, powerful without becoming mawkish and full marks too to Andrew Dunkley again for imaginative lighting design, particularly in scenes picking out items or characters by overhead pencils of light.

The original idea of the nude WI calendar was suggested while John was still alive. It was something which amused him but his widow, Angela, remembers "He said that we would never do it, that we were all talk".

How wrong he was. The ambition was to raise enough, with luck, to buy a new settee for the relative's room at the hospital where John had been treated. The reality was a fund-raising snowball.

The first calendar was launched in April 1999 and sold out in the first week; a second print run of 10,000, sold out in three weeks. More were printed and 88,000 sold and  a version adapted for the American market which sold more than 200,000 copies.

That 2000 calendar funded lymphoma and leukaemia research in new laboratories at the University of Leeds. A plaque dedicated to John Baker reads, "The work in this laboratory is dedicated to the memory of John Baker in recognition of the exceptional fundraising achievements of 'The Calendar Girls' of the Rylstone & District Women's Institute." The Calendar Girls still raises funds and supports research – and it is still providing an evening of enjoyable, if at times a little sad, entertainment. To 05-10-13.

Roger Clarke

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