HE programme proclaims that this is an "amateur production" of Calendar Girls by North Devon theatre group Small Pond Productions. But from where I was sitting this was a far from amateur portrayal of the popular story, based on the Miramax film of the same name.
The Landmark Theatre in Ilfracombe was buzzing with anticipation as we took our seats. Everyone has a rough idea of the plot, which is the dramatic rendition of a true story of love, loss and friendship.
A group of WI members in the Yorkshire Dales are rocked by the death of one of their husbands from non-Hodgkin's lymphoma at just 54, and decide to raise funds for Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research. Their fundraising idea? An alternative WI calendar. Out with the countryside views and in with the naked – sorry, nude – shots of the women doing traditional WI activities – marmalade making, knitting and so on.
No one has any idea just how successful the calendar will be and the story takes us on the journey as the women get more and more famous and the tensions that causes between them.
This production is rich in chemistry between the six main protagonists, and as an ensemble they are fantastic, with great comic timing and dramatic subtlety.
Special mention must be made of Debbie Hadley (co-founder of Small Pond) who played Chris and Antonia Blackmore as the recently bereaved Annie. Theirs is the strongest relationship, challenged by the media attention the calendar brings, and both actresses give their characters a warmth that was a pleasure to watch.
The scene in which the calendar photos are taken was faultless – I was particularly impressed by the camera flashes denoting when each shot had been completed.
The cleverly designed roll-on, roll-off set was well-crafted, taking us from the village hall to the great outdoors in one easy step.
This play is very much about people and there was such enthusiasm coming from the stage that you couldn't fail but to be drawn into the action. And the gentle combination of laugh out loud comedy and gentle, poignant moments was brilliant; the final scene, among the sunflowers, which are such an integral part of this tale, being a case in point.
Congratulations to director Lee Baxendale and his team both on stage and behind the scenes for creating a wonderful production.