Metro Theatre, until November 18th 2017
My Two Cents
By Kelly Moncton
Metro Theatre has chosen well in Calendar Girls. The story combines humour and heartbreak beautifully, and the six women are each given chances to shine. There were some moments that felt a little less polished in this production, but also moments that made me genuinely laugh and tear up.
The bulk of the play (and the movie it is based on) centres on Annie’s loss of her husband John to cancer. Her middle-aged friends from the Women’s Institute (WI) are already tired of their routine dioramas and meaningless guest-speakers, so they take on fundraising for a better guest room at the hospital. Partly inspired by John’s appreciation of the older, blooming female form, they decide to make a nude calendar.
One of the few weaknesses of the script is how little it makes of this courageous, empowering decision. A couple characters are reluctant, but quickly join in and pose behind typical WI activities such as baking, knitting, and carol singing. Logistics such as how to pose, sell the calendar, and deal with the resulting fame, seem to take up quite a bit of time. The bravery and celebration involved in showing a less-than-perfect body in this age of airbrushing is not to be underestimated.
The calendar actors onstage were likewise brave, and the nervous energy they brought to the photo scenes was infectious. Another standout moment was when they read all of the touching and silly fan mail. The final scene was less impressive on the night I attended, with a long pause before a couple simple lines were said.
The number of costume changes and scene changes in this play was overwhelming, and they took away from the good performances onstage. We had lovely songs playing during some scene changes, and they would stop, then a performer (often impressive Judy McLellan) would appear onstage and start fresh. I’m not sure why they could not overlap? Another jarring note was the mixed bag of accents in this small village. Some of the actors had strong, clear accents, and others’ origins seemed to float around the North Atlantic vaguely.
As director Alison Schamberger mentions in her notes, there is a large, fairly empty stage for this show, and there were moments, like the Tai Chi lessons, and the talk on broccoli, where the audience could enjoy clear sightlines to all of cast and their behaviour in the silly situations. In other scenes, the actors tended to look a bit lost and static.
Despite these quibbles, there were many engaging, sympathetic performances. I particularly enjoyed how grounded Peg Keenleyside felt, and Helen Martin had me cheering for her downtrodden character. David Wallace brought great charm to the stage, and Christine Egerton Ball and Adrian Maxwell made the most of their dual roles.
The warm message of this show gives us hope, and makes us all feel that we can be heroes in our way. A couple glitches can’t dim the shine of a beautiful story performed with such heart.