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NODA Review - Calendar Girls by Tim Firth

The popular story of the WI ladies who go against the convention of the dusty old school image of jam making and church hall bazaars to reveal all for a charity calendar is surely well-known and I did initially have my doubts as to whether this familiar tale needed yet another airing, this time as a stage play: was this to be another 'gimmick' show - the promise of ladies in the altogether - designed to tempt in audiences but with nothing interesting to say? Any doubts I may have had were dispelled within minutes of the curtain opening on this charming and involving piece at Todmorden. This solid and heartfelt production gave a packed house an evening of humour, pathos and intelligent entertainment of the highest standard: here was a production which addressed many themes with an understanding which belied its light touch, dealing with friendship, loss, commitment, shifting emotions and responsibilities with a deft hand. 


Director Justine Sutcliffe knitted together a fine team of performers on stage and had clearly understood the involving nature of the piece and marshalled her cast superbly: an excellent achievement of which she should be immensely proud. Characters were well drawn and completely inhabited by the cast and the ensemble did a super job without a weak link in the cast. Vital technical work, with scenery, lighting and sound helping to create a fully rounded production, all added up to an enjoyable and professional evening's entertainment. Leading the merry band of WI ladies were Joyce Fraser as Chris and Monja Noszkay as Annie, both giving excellent performances: Joyce as the cheeky firebrand rebel of the WI and Moni, the widow whose loss sets the calendar idea in motion. With peerless performances from both actors at the heart of the production, Joyce and Moni and their characters' shifting relationship gave the production a solid centre. Dawn-Marie Nicholls added a delightfully enthusiastic bounce to the role of Cora and Sue Jones brought a deadpan humour to retired teacher Jessie; Heather Wilson was endearingly louche as lady of leisure Cora and Christine Kidd a wonderfully dotty Ruth. All six of the 'Calendar Girls' worked marvellously as a team and there was a real feeling of camaraderie: a testament to the skills of the performers and the director.


Dialogue and characterisation were handled with a first rate understanding of the piece and created an involving and intelligent evening's entertainment. 'That scene' - where the ladies reveal all with the help of a range of appropriately WI friendly props to cover their modesty - was accomplished and delivered tastefully and with humour. Full marks to the brave girls for giving it their all. It feels invidious to single out a particular performance, scene or individual moment as all the cast worked so well as a team to really inhabit their characters and bring the play to life... so I won't. The endearing mixture of Alan Bennett, Victoria Wood and 'Last of the Summer Wine' the play so successfully brings together was fully understood by the entire team and an appreciative audience rewarded the production with fulsome and well-deserved applause. 


Other members of the cast also excelled: Janet Spooner was terrific as Marie, giving a depth and a realism to a character which it would be easy to overlook or just play for cheap laughs; Andy Fraser as John brought a gentle dignity to the role and never strayed over into over-sentimentality; Chris Stott as Lawrence judged his performance just right as the flustered photographer and Andrew Marsden as Rod also gave a believable and grounded performance. Other smaller cameo roles were brought off deftly and with charm and wit: Sam Whittaker an enjoyably dry Brenda Hulse; Brenda Bell a coolly grand Lady Cravenshire; Matt Parker impressed as the oleaginous ad man with Nikki Hardiman-Price and Corey Beardsmore completing the cast list, also giving solid performances. Technically adept, the production benefited from a great central set with lighting which brought the audience into the drama and the many and varied costume changes which could have slowed the pace of the production were handled intelligently with the use of sympathetic music. 


Each scene was treated as integral to the whole and given equal weight, making for a well-rounded and enjoyably thoughtful production. My thanks go to the society for a very warm welcome and a great evening's entertainment: I look forward to the next production at Todmorden with eager anticipation.