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Stripping away all their inhibitions

It takes great skill to bring an audience to the verge of tears in one moment and cause them to squeal with laughter the next.

That’s exactly how it was with ‘Calendar Girls’, now on at the Bermuda Musical and Dramatic Society.

Written by English dramatist Tim Firth and directed by local Janice Howell, the talented cast navigated between the comedic and dramatic aspects of the story with ease.

‘Calendar Girls’ tells the tale of how some ordinary Yorkshire women decide to pose nude for a calendar to raise money for cancer, after Annie (played by Valerie Smith) watches her husband John lose his fight with the bitter disease.

The pièce de résistance of the play is when the brave actresses bare all in front of the audience for their racy calendar photos. It’s tastefully done silver photography light reflectors help hide their more private bits from the audience.

This writer was lucky enough to get to see the play on opening night last Thursday at the Earl Cameron Theatre at City Hall.

From the moment the curtains opened at 8pm, the characters worked to set a light, humorous tone by offering up bouts of British humour — there were even a few punch lines about UK boy band Westlife.

During the Women’s Institute Spring Fete, the witty character Chris (played by Nicola Flood) decides to disguise a sponge cake bought from Marks & Spencer’s as her own. She ends up winning the cake competition, but must eventually confess her creation was in fact store-bought.

The Goody two-shoes of the group, Ruth (played by Monica Dobbie), brought the audience to roaring laughter dressed in an oversized rabbit costume. The women tease that she actually looks like a mouse, ferret and gerbil.

One thing that is evident from the start is the strong bond between the female characters on stage.

And instead of hitting the audience over the head with the serious themes right away, they show us gradually how John’s health is deteriorating. At Christmas time John, played by Alan Brooks, is still in good spirits and flirts with the ladies in sexy Santa costumes. By spring he’s been in and out of the hospital.

As the audience learns of his death, one could feel the mood in the theatre turn sombre. There are a few particularly moving speeches in the play — one when Chris confronts the women at the national WI conference; another when Ruth finally works up the nerve to talk to her husband’s mistress.

Mostly set in the church hall, where the women practise singing hymns and listen to guest speakers talk about gardening, the set uses simple props like a projector screen and piano to create an old-town atmosphere.

While in subsequent scenes panels unfolded to reveal lush, green countryside where the women take part in a largely made-up form of tai-chi.

Scene changes are so seamless on television, but are certainly harder to deal with on stage. As the lights dimmed you could see crew rushing to change the props, but they worked quickly to ensure this wasn’t much of an inconvenience for the audience.

Back to the story, Annie and Chris try and encourage their friends to pose nude for a calendar and argue it’s what John would have wanted.

The women are all initially hesitant and the bashful Ruth quips that: “With all due respect Annie, he didn’t say whip your bras off.”

Thanks to “liquid courage” from wine, the women agree to pose nude behind knitting needles, pianos, tea cups and biscuits. The brief scenes where the brave actresses go au naturale are tastefully done and audience members cheered them each on enthusiastically.

The calendar offers Annie a sense of hope as people from all over the world write in to tell her about their struggle with cancer; it also gives Ruth the courage she needs to stand up to her cheating husband and his mistress.

But it also threatens to tear the friends apart as Chris seems more preoccupied with the fame and celebrity that comes from the scheme.

As the calendar’s success grows, the production team are clever to show how widespread it has become. In one scene they use a radio broadcast in different languages and accents to illustrate this.

In the end the calendar reaches far more people than they ever expected and the audience gets to share in this joy.

‘Calendar Girls’ is definitely a must-see play and the acting displayed must also be commended — each woman seemed to morph effortlessly into their role.

There are still tickets left for the remaining performances. The show runs until Saturday at the Earl Cameron Theatre. Tickets, $35, are available online at www.express.bm.

The cast of the upcoming production of Calendar Girls (Photo by Glenn Tucker)

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Published April 16, 2013 at 9:00 am (Updated April 15, 2013 at 8:50 pm)

Stripping away all their inhibitions

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