A hoot from start to finish...

Alnwick Theatre Club Calendar Girls
Alnwick Theatre Club Calendar Girls

REVIEW: Calendar Girls, Alnwick Theatre Club, at Alnwick Playhouse, on Wednesday, April 24

Watching brave souls from a Women’s Institute take their clothes off isn’t something I’ve experienced before.

But there’s a first time for everything – especially when they’re posing nude for an alternative charity calendar.

And as each one derobbed, with their modesty preserved by an array of objects, from fruit to a piano, there was cheering and applause.

Not only from me, but from an entire Alnwick Playhouse audience.

Okay, these weren’t real Women’s Institute members, rather hardy performers from Alnwick Theatre Club (ATC) who slipped into the roles of six Knapely WI branch representatives.

Their antics were part of ATC’s latest production, Calendar Girls.

And these exploits helped ensure the show will live long in the memory – in a good way.

The onstage photo shoot scene was a complicated one, but it was the highlight of the show. Under the guidance of director Tony Neale, it was well-executed, humorous and heartwarming.

And this was ATC’s performance of Calendar Girls in a nutshell.

The stage show has become something of a national phenomenon.

Groups across the land have staged the play after the publishers released it to amateur dramatic societies for a limited period of time.

On this evidence, it is easy to see why.

Put simply, this charming and touching show is a hoot from start to finish.

And ATC more than did justice to Tim Firth’s inspirational comedy.

It tells the story of Annie, who husband dies from leukaemia at an early age.

Her close friend Chris, anxious to purchase a comfortable sofa for the visitors’ lounge where he was treated, hits upon the idea of printing an alternative charity calendar, with members of the Knapely branch of the WI posing nude while engaged in typical WI activities, such as cake baking.

The calendar goes on to become a huge success.

The script is good; a fast-moving plot which is packed with both heartache and comic moments.

But for every decent story, there is the need for a decent cast.

ATC take a bow.

Make no mistake about it, there were some really good performances here.

The rapport between the six main characters, played by Heather Howey, Helen Gee, Lisa Gladstone, Susan Smith, Julie Vint and Wendy Richardson, was believable and fun to watch. They each made their characters come alive by capturing the different personalities of the leading ladies.

Gladstone brought a delicacy to the role of widow Annie.

Vint was excellent as Ruth, capturing her character’s change during the course of the show, from a relative goody-two-shoes and, perhaps somewhat of a victim, in the first half, to becoming a survivor and more independent in the second; exploding at her husband’s lover at one point after the interval was a fine piece of theatre.

Gee was formidable as Chris, the calendar’s champion who tastes stardom and is tempted to capitalise on it. Gee brought real energy and a big personality to her role.

For all the comedic moments in the play, of which there are many, the show is touching, as it deals with a sensitive subject matter.

I thought the cast got the tone right, striking a nice balance between the sad and the lighter moments.

The play was dedicated to club stalwart Sally Miller, who passed away earlier this year.

ATC’s performance of Calendar Girls proved to be a fitting tribute to her.

Cast list: Heather Howey, Helen Gee, Lisa Gladstone, Susan Smith, Julie Vint, Wendy Richardson, Fiona Cuthbert, Carol Hawkins, Peter Biggers, John Craggs, Joyce Stevens, Daniel Watkins, Clair Birbeck, Robin Lewsey.