Calendar Girls

Matt Byrne Media. Holden Street Theatres. 17 Oct 2012

First there were the real calendar girls of a Women’s Institute in Yorkshire who had the modest goal of purchasing a sofa for the local hospital in memory of one of the girl’s husband’s passing from cancer.  Their immodest 2000 calendar and reprises - showing the ladies nude with their naughty bits hid by props like a knitting square or a cupcake - instead raised 2 million quid.  There was even an all-colour 2010 10th anniversary calendar.  The movie in 2003 was very popular – Helen Mirren led the disrobing.  The play was created in 2008 and now director Matthew Byrne fleshes out the text in this likeable comedy premiere.

The narrative of the play is the journey of ordinary country women setting aside their modesty for charity and how it changes them and their relationships.  Another very important message is that the girls – actors and characters – do not distinguish beauty and body type.  The play gets off to a very slow start and the six calendar girls in a broad sense don’t make their lives interesting enough.  The big exceptions are the scenes of the photo shoot for the calendar. Byrne got each of them to freeze the most perfect pose and facial gesture for the camera.  The first undress rehearsal must have been a hoot.  That scene happened half way through the play and the show otherwise never quite reached the same energy. 

The girls’ interactions seemed stodgy without a clear ring of authenticity.  Maggie Wood was my highlight for character development playing a rather simple persona with emotional depth.  Penni Hamilton-Smith was always larger than life and sucked the oxygen out of her scenes.  Monologues by the ladies which needed a high level of emotional import seemed simply expositional.  However, Eleanor Boyd stitched up her two short roles with fulsome characterisations.  Two male parts were expertly executed - Marc Brown as the bumbling photographer and James Seow as the TV ad director gave stand out performances.

Byrne helped set the scenes with colourful slides and thematically selected old pop tunes.  The girls’ stories are interesting and indeed could be anyone’s story, but they are not sufficiently dramatic as presented.  Byrne didn’t put enough tang into this lemon meringue.

If you fancy yourself a Phantom or a damsel in distress, MBM is auditioning for 2013’s The Phantom Of The Opera next month.  With Byrne’s own adaptation of Reservoir Dogs, it’s looking like another big year on the boards for Matt.

David Grybowski

When: 17 Oct to 3 Nov
Where: Holden Street Theatres