CALENDARGIRLS' DULVERTON SELL OUT
"It's what you do, isn't it?" spouts the leery ad man at theWI Ladies photo shoot "You get your kit off, don't you?" Of course they don't,well not for him anyway. But they did for Exmoor's700 who attended Dulverton Players' saucy, sad, and uplifting production ofCalendar Girls last week. This is the true story of a Yorks WI whomake a nude calendar to raise funds to fight 'this pernicious disease', cancer.It played to five sell-out nights at the Town Hall.
There is nothing seedy about Calendar Girls. It is abeautiful, heartrending, hilarious and rebellious story. The seven female leadsmolded each WI character perfectly, never straying from the joshing, close, andrival relationships. The script teases the audience. One second you're at afuneral, gulping back tears for the bereaved wife, the next roaring withlaughter at the very personal, women-only repartee.
Banger Milton, joint master with the Dulverton Farmers,opens the show with a gentle rendering of Jerusalem.Later she will be naked (oops, 'nude not naked'!) at the piano where she keepsthe play's music on track throughout. The action then switches quickly, as itdoes throughout this smooth production, to the rumbustious Claire Govier(Chris) who is leading the women's group in her own hilariously makeshiftversion of Tai Chi. She is a Dulverton discovery, energetically onstagethroughout, blagging her pals into posing behind cream buns, kettles, marmaladepots, balls of knitting, lilies, all with no clothes on. Her foil is thebeautifully understated Tamsin Blackmore (Annie), whose honesty, lack of egoand love for her dying husband, tug the audience between Chris's get-up-and-gobullishness and Annie's gentle sincerity. Each character is balanced and complementary.It is a perfect pairing between Claire and Tamsin, managing ego andbereavement, both losers in midlife, and winners in the end.
You know immediately that these 'Girls' are going to giveyou an entertaining evening. Ginny Brown (Jessie, a 68-year-old school ma'am)brings the house down with well timed references to front bottoms, popping offto score some crack, and reminding the young, nervous and jittery photographer(Antony Bartlett) that she used to be his schoolteacher, while he is setting upthe camera to photograph her wearing only a ball of knitting wool.
The Girls also stripped off for their own Exmoorversion of the calendar. Photographed by local gallery professional MikeBralowski sales have raised £1060 towards St. Margaret's and Children'sHospices. A few copies are still available at the Post Office.
Calendar Girls is a tough play to perform. It is made tolook easy with slick and supportive direction by John Thorogood and MarionSilverlock. There are clever touches throughout: nudity authentically andtastefully managed; you'll never look at a marmalade jar inquite the same way again; rainingletters from all over the world out of the sky; John's wheelchair left on stagesignifying his death; the booming speaker voice reminding us of the Girls'commitment; the climax suffused with sunflowers.
Done well it touches both your heart and your head. Theunderlying theme is those sunflowers, which we learn aren't even naturalto this country. Playgoers are greeted by a phalanx of smartly dressed Front ofHouse and Bar Staff all wearing the cheerful yellow flower. At the climax tothe play, the calendar having raised £1/2 million for a new hospital wing,fields of sunflowers are projected across the whole stage and curtains. Onthe last night those curtains had to be rolled back three times for thefourteen cast, aged 14 to 68, totake rapturous applause and two standing ovations.
The technical excellence of the production belies itsstraightforward presentation. Costume changes are slick andunnoticeable. Liz Stanbury's choices cleverly match the audience's – alllocal clothes. The set itself is a continuation of the Town Hall decor.You feel throughout as though you are in this play yourself. Christine Dubery,Simon Williams, Steve Hall, Tom Lock, Debbie Passmore, and Mary Jackson havepulled off a masterpiece of simplicity and technical excellence. Thisplay, the toll which cancer takes, and the country life portrayed, are 'hereand now', amongst us in this hall, town, and county.
The majority audiences are women. You can feel that for manyof the people present their lives have been touched by cancer, as well asknowing about the mischief making and infidelities portrayed in the script. Ourdouble standards are easily exposed. The audience roars with approval at theretribution dished out to Elaine (Kate Ansell plays this role with simperingcondescension) when she is caught out in her affair with Ruth's husband, yetthey also cheer when Ginny Brown reveals there has been someone else in herlife other than her husband privy to 'her pleasant pastures'. Her laugh linesare perfectly judged.
Debbie Wright's Ruth plays the walked over, goody-goody, whoobeys all the rules until she discovers her Eddy's infidelity with thebeautician and breaks out. She is the perfect foil to Marie's (Suzy Wall)wonderfully bossy Chairman.She too has a skeleton in the cupboard, revealed in the second half before shetriumphs over the rival WI at the end.
Each woman has their own very definite character; they playoff each other beautifully. The stars are Tamsin Blackmore (Annie) and ClaireGovier (Chris), backed up with superb teamwork by Suzy Wall, Carol Jones,Banger Milton, Debbie Wright, and Ginny Brown. The minor parts support thewhole presentation with Charlie Blanning, Alan Marks, Antony Bartlett, KateAnsell, Gwenda Bassett, and Mary McMichael, all important to the plot as thestory unfolds. It's a good play for amateurs to introduce new talent.
All of the characters are 'winners' eventually – Annie withthe new hospital wing; Cora reuniting with the black US lover of herillegitimate child, whom her vicar father wouldn't let her wed; and especiallyCarol Jones (Celia), the glamour puss golf 'widow', who brought the house downwith her simplification of the game to "You either get the ball in the hole, oryou don't!" Her presentation of the fashionista ******* in a middle aged WInever wavers.
The way this group of women get on with bringing theircalendar to fruition, turning it into a hugely successful business venture withjust their own energy and commitment, might give Alan Sugar and other businessgurus pause for thought about how to get things done. The spirit of thesewomen, this play, and the reason it was a sell-out, demonstrate that realcommunity commitment might be one drug that does make life work.
Departing playgoers were asking "How can the Players betterthis?" "Great to see the Players back up to strength again". Visitors revealedthat they had travelled especially from Cambridge,Salisbury, Manchester,and Birmingham.The Players even had to apologise to many of their faithful supporters whocouldn't get tickets, despite opening up the Dress Rehearsal to many of them.
Each actor defined their own very different character. Theyplay off each other with rapid and realistic responses, moving swiftly andnaturally from scene to scene, keeping the audience attentive throughout. Thechoreography, music, singing, and humour all flow. Not an aside, nuance, orcomic line is lost. Good teamwork is revealed in the by-play.
The first half climaxes with the photography for the nudecalendar. The second half is a more serious psychological study –relationships, marriages, affairs, egos, secrets, cover-ups, putting on a braveface, class and sexual politics exposed, insecurity,loving co-operation, loss, all feature strongly. Suzy Wall'sbossy, sycophantic snobhad to leave Cheshire for earthy Yorks when her schoolgirldaughter becomes pregnant with the high flying maths teacher. Little revelationsemerge as the characters unfold. If Celia's mother had not been so secretiveabout her breasts "The rest of her might still be with us today."
The actor's body language matched their characters andscript. Charlie Blanning as John Clark, the Yorkshirehorticulturalist, shocks the hall with his deterioration as he fights thedisease with chemotherapy. He portrays with sensitivity that losing battle. Hisscenes with Annie have you gulping back distress. The dynamics between himand his wife, feel real. Later he returns completely transformed into thatleery ad man.
When this professional play was released for amateurs tostage for twelve months only, Dulverton was one of the first of the 520applicants. Last week The Players will have contributed to The Guinness Book ofRecords for the most performed play in one year, as well as their own audiencerecords.