Personally I have never understood the fuss made about nudity, makes sense in the current steamy weather, but it is clearly a big deal for some. And very unbritish. Which probably explains why a group of Women’s Institute ladies collectively dropping their Yorkshire knickers twenty years ago, caused such a stir. Tits and bums replaced Jam and Jerusalem on fund raising calendars and worldwide media frenzy ensued. Tim Firth’s Calendar Girls tells the real small scale story, liberally laced with pathos and humour. Death, sunflowers, and gritty warmth manfully cloak an essentially simple tale of village folk. Too episodic and formulaic to be a great play but one in which it is impossible not to be moved. Emotional and historical baggage had a feel good factor worthy of bottling for any village hall fete.
At the risk of sounding like an unwelcome adjudicator at a private knees-up I have to say that, for me, Angela Goss’s latest Rep production only partially pulled it off. She had some cracking performances, none more so than Dee Lovelock’s feisty florist Chris and Annalise Carter-Brown’s repressed Ruth. Miss Lovelock was sharp and pithy in everything she did and Miss Carter-Brown, playing against type, beautifully etched a mouse that eventually roared. But some scenes seemed under paced and/or over rehearsed. Take your pick. The freshness of verbal sunflowers was missing. On a set that leaves all the work to the actors, can’t do much with a village community hall, you need your cast to fire full tilt on all their collective cylinders. Here, in the heat, sparks only intermittently flew. I enjoyed some well crafted portrayals but I wasn’t grabbed by the throat. Given the full houses, the complimentary water and the ecstatic audiences, I now, no doubt, will be.
Susan Young turned in a very sensitive portrayal as the lady who lost a husband (a gentle cameo from Phil Baker) and found a calendar, and Katy Eliott (upmarket sexy golf widow) and Barbara Morton (belligerent but refined teacher) provided rich humour in their clearly shaped characterisations. Completing the Miss of the Month sextet, Deborah Cheshire served up a rebellious vicar’s daughter. Aggressive in attitude and attire, more vocal variety would have enhanced her performance. Told you this was pseudo adjudication. Well if it is I shall leave some of the peripheral roles alone. I liked Kenton Harding in the thankless role of Rod the flower man and Julie Hanns looked every inch a cloned beautician. But the towering performance from a cast member who didn’t shed drawers was Jo Collett’s status conscious Marie. Her Women’s Institute Chairman treated Yorkshire as something she had trodden in and constantly tried to shake off. Along with an unhappy past in, emphasise the last syllable please, Cheshire.
My last syllable is that I admired Alan Goss’s clever set change to a Yorkshire hill and the sunflower lighting of the theatre walls at the end. And I felt for the man who never got to see the real flowers grow. But you can be emotionally moved without being theatrically lifted. Flesh and feelings were skilfully revealed in this calendar but the separate pictures never totally gelled. Roy Hall