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Review: Windsor Theatre Guild pull off Calendar Girls at The Theatre Royal, Windsor
You can imagine that the prospect of performing Calendar Girls might have caused the ladies (and perhaps even the men) of Windsor Theatre Guild, feelings of trepidation. We’ve all seen the movie and the wondrous physique of Dame Helen Mirren and we're all aware that a little bit of nudity is required throughout. Well, whether nerves were rife amongst the cast members or not, it certainly wasn't apparent as they delivered a confident and memorable first performance at the Theatre Royal on Tuesday night.
Written by Tim Firth, this poignant comedy surrounds a group of WI members in a small Yorkshire village. When one of the ladies tragically loses her husband to leukaemia, the women seek a way to raise money in his memory. Despairing of the stuffy, uninspired ‘Jam and Jerusalem’ culture of the Women’s Institute, the ladies are more than unenthused by the drab idea for their annual calendar, so propose an alternative.
Let’s just say that ‘the finest views in the country’ was interpreted in an entirely different way. Lorna Pearson-Hall plays Chris – the buoyant Yorkshire lass whose leads the ladies in their mission to lay themselves bare in the name of charity. Hall performs this part with a flourish of energy and humour.
Other characters who stood out to me included the straight-talking, ‘no front-bottoms’ Jesse (Ann Roberts) and the utterly bonkers but misunderstood Ruth (Tracey Palmer).
The women worked wonderfully together, delivering a polished performance in both the joyful and tragic moments of this marvellous, and true, story. Of course, the four male actors cannot be overlooked, all of whom counterbalanced the fiery females with exactly the right touch.
James Johnstone’s performance of Lawrence, the calendar photographer really had the audience chuckling as he stumbled, camera in hand, into the village hall – unsure how to react to the nipples of the Knapely WI.
This scene as a whole was particularly notable and credit goes to the director for this slick fifteen minute sequence. Co-ordinating six women in a half-naked, manic frenzy of attempting to hide all their bits and bobs behind what seemed like hundreds of props whilst delivering fast-paced lines in conjunction with moving the set - well it can’t have been easy.
But a scene which really remains in my memory is when dozens of letters were steadily dropped from the rafters and floated down onto the stage – a way of symbolising the overwhelming public response to the calendar and its cause. This was a simple, yet seriously effective device. From a rupture of chuckles to sniffles in the stalls, Windsor Theatre Guild really pulled this one off.