F*%@ cancer! It is the passion that this blunt statement stirs that is missing from the Calendar Girls script, currently on stage at the Arts Club’s Stanley Theatre.
This stage version from Tim Firth, one of the writers of the 2003 movie of the same name, tells the story of the Women’s Institute (WI) of Yorkshire who created a calendar featuring themselves in traditional WI undertakings like baking and gardening. The twist here though is that behind the strategically placed cakes and flowers that hide the naughty bits, the women are nude. A huge success, the calendar and the women became an international phenomenon ultimately raising hundreds of thousands of dollars in its original printing and over the years has gone on to raise millions for cancer research and spawned countless copycats.
Even if one goes in not knowing the story, Firth has put together a concretely linear re-telling of this feel-good story with little in the way of tension. We know the outcome, we see any conflict coming a mile away and it all could be best described as mildly amusing, as if it were vetted for an audience with the Queen.
The long set-up in act one culminates with the actual photo shoot and it is in these all too fleeting minutes that the women on stage finally come to life and their passionate energy in knowing they are doing something a bit naughty while doing something good, is infectious. If we didn’t need to know what happens after the calendar is created this would have been a perfect ending.
Despite the problems with Firth’s script there are some wonderful moments from this cast. Shirley Broderick and Kerry Sandomirsky provide some nice comedic moments as the elder of the group and the golf-playing trophy wife respectively. I also totally bought into the relationship between Shawn Macdonald as the dying husband and Wendy Noel as his wife Annie and Aslam Husain brought a very funny and believable nervousness to his role as the young photographer.
Drew Facey’s set is a wonderful dinosaur-like skeleton of the church where the women meet, perhaps as a clever nod to how these women helped move the almost Jurassic WI kicking and screaming into the 21st century.
That opening night special guest Tricia Stewart, from whom the play’s character Chris is based, received more applause at being introduced than at the curtain spoke volumes.
While this cast is capable, Calendar Girls still needs its own four-letter word.
By Tim Firth, based on the film by Juliette Towhidi and Tim Firth. Directed by Rachel Ditor. On stage at the Arts Club Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage through February 26, 2012. Visit http://www.artsclub.com for tickets and information.