Review: Calendar Girls

It's hats off to the hit without kit


The place is packed with women of a certain age and there is barely a bloke to be seen.

If you thought respectable ladies taking their tops off would bring red-blooded males flocking, then think again. This is definitely more hen night than stag party.

Calendar Girls is the true life story of the jam and Jerusalem ladies of a Yorkshire Women's Institute branch, who decide to pull together and bare all for a fund-raising calendar. OK, not quite all, as their modesty is very carefully spared by strategically placed props – flowers, balls of wool, marmalade making equipment and the like.

Their remarkable rebellion against a world of plum jam and Victoria sponges caused a sensation. They printed 1,000 calendars, ended up selling 88,000 and have, to date, raised £3 million for leukaemia and lymphoma research.

The story became a 2003 film by Tim Firth, starring Helen Mirren and Julie Walters, and a play, directed by Roger Haines, which is now on its fifth and final UK tour after wowing West End audiences.

It is great knockabout stuff, a dead simple comedy plot with poignant bits here and some syrupy sentimentality there to give depth. But what really makes it is the fantastic line-up of mostly middle-aged women.

Lynda Bellingham, the Oxo mum for 16 years and now drawing her old age pension, takes the Helen Mirrren role as Chris, the boisterous boss of this raucous mob of WI ladies. She is the first to get her kit off.

Jennifer Ellison, one-time Brookside babe who plays Celia, is no stranger to glamour photography in real life. Lisa Riley, the roly-poly ex-Emmerdale actress, arguably has less experience. But she brings the house down with one well-aimed expletive and revels in her comedy role.

Bernie Nolan, one-time lead singer of The Nolans is in the mood for taking off her clothes as Cora, Trudie Goodwin (Sgt June Ackland in The Bill for 23 years) plays Annie, the serious one whose husband's premature death sparks the whole enterprise.

Gwen Taylor - Duty Free, Yes Prime Minister and Heartbreak - is Jessie. Ruth Madoc, formerly of Hi-De-Hi! fame, and more recently in Little Britain, plays the prim and proper Marie, with a more "traditional" take on WI values.

And Diana Moran (remember the Green Goddess from the mid-'80s on Breakfast Time?) is even more prim and proper as the shockable hat-wearing and frightfully posh Lady Cravenshire.

With a cast like that it is hard to go wrong. It was shame then that the whole thing peaked a little early. After half an hour of comic banter but no discernible direction, the calendar idea is born, and quickly builds to the play's climax - the photo shoot.

There was barely a dry eye - or seat - in the house as this mixed bunch of ladies remove their clothes for the benefit of a deeply embarrassed photographer. How they howled. The few men I spotted in the audience looked stoney-faced as the wives and girlfriends bonded over a girls-only gag that clearly confronted their deepest insecurities.

Enough of the psychoanalysis. You will probably see more flesh in a swimwear ad, and after the interval it never quite achieves the same pace. But it is billed as the most successful show to tour the UK - and if you happen to be female I would have no hesitation in recommending it.

Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive