Review: Calendar Girls, Festival Theatre

Deena Payne in Calendar Girls
Deena Payne in Calendar Girls
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After four years on the road, Tim Firth’s stage adaptation of the 2003 film Calendar Girls arrives in the Festival Theatre in Edinburgh tonight as part of its farewell tour.

**

There can be few people who by now are not familiar with the touching and genuinely inspiring story of the real life Calendar Girls. When the husband of a Yorkshire Woman’s Institute member was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma the ladies took it upon themselves to raise a small amount of money for their local hospital’s cancer unit. A few months, a photo shoot and some carefully placed cream buns later they had become a global phenomenon, raising millions for cancer charities in the process.

There is a large cast of familiar faces on stage, led by the excellent Lynda Bellingham in a role she first played during the original hugely successful West End run. As cheeky ringleader Chris she gave the central performance and provided much of the heart and warmth of the play.

She is ably supported by Jan Harvey who gives an understated and touching performance as Annie the bereaved wife. The rest of the cast struggle gamely with the material they are given, but rarely manage to break out from their assigned stereotypes. However, a special mention should go to June Watson who manages to steal many of the best lines as Jessie, the elder member of the group.

The first act moves along at a breakneck pace, mixing tragedy with broad comedy and building to the comedic highlight of the carefully stage-managed photo shoot itself. Unfortunately this proves a difficult act to follow, and much of the second act is padded out with a few contrived conflicts that are swiftly resolved to conveniently make way for a crowd pleasing ending. Despite having had its knockers over the years there can be no doubt that this production of Calendar Girls strikes a chord with a particular audience who appreciate its unique blend of panto and pathos. However, those who prefer their theatre with a little more subtlety would be best advised to look elsewhere.

Runs until April 28