Calendar Girls

Calendar Girls is written by Tim Firth and directed by Sally Hughes, and is the true story of 11 WI members who posed nude for a calendar to raise money for Leukaemia research.  

When Annie’s husband John dies of leukaemia, she and best friend Chris, fed up of getting spiked ‘behinds’ from the springs in the old sofa, decide to raise money for a new sofa in the hospital waiting room. They persuade some of their fellow Knapeley WI members to pose nude (“not naked”) for an “alternative” calendar.  Hospital porter and amateur photographer Lawrence is on hand to take the photographs, in a hilariously funny, yet very sensitive way.

The play follows not only the story of the calendar, but also the growing press coverage, the success of the now famous, and much copied calendar, but also the pressure on Chris and Annie’s friendship and their new-found fame.

If you’ve never been before, The Mill at Sonning includes dinner beforehand with your ticket. It’s a really lovely start to the evening.

The set for this production very cleverly features the classic black, white and red stationer’s calendar design, which frames the set and is used to highlight the passing of the months and seasons. It’s a very simple, yet effective way to show the audience the passing of time as we follow John’s illness, his passing, the hilarious photoshoot, the national WI conference and the calendar becoming an international story.

The cast bring this story to life with much humour, often hilarity, and also warmth.

The two leads, Chris and Annie, are wonderfully played by Rachel Fielding and Natalie Ogle. You totally feel the depth of their friendship, through good, and very bad times. This is a friendship that has real roots, and thankfully withstands their falling out over the fame that Chris, in particular, revels in. I, for one, certainly had tears in my eyes, especially at the end, when the two women reconcile amidst news of just how financially successful the calendar has become, and how it benefits Skipton Hospital.

The women, Chris, Annie, Debbie Arnold as Cora, Basienka Blake as Celia, Ciara Janson as Ruth, and Sarah Whitlock as retired teacher Jessie all fully enter into the spirit of producing the calendar. The photo shoot scene itself is just beautifully done, including Ruth’s last minute arrival as Miss November!  The are some famous one liners, the best of which is undoubtedly that “we’re going to need considerably bigger buns”, and the significance of the sunflower is a thread that runs throughout the play to beautiful effect, particularly at the end.

Special merit should also go to Oscar Cleaver, for showing just how uncomfortably shy his photographer Lawrence is about the photo shoot, and also to Elizabeth Elvin’s lovely portrayal of Knapeley WI Chair, prim and proper, Marie, who ultimately champions the calendar.

This was a heart-warmingly funny evening at the theatre, and well worth a trip out to this beautiful theatre for some lovely food, gorgeous setting, and a fabulous night at the theatre.

This show was reviewed on the 19th April 2024 at The Mill at Sonning where it runs until the 1st June 2024.  Tickets available here: Mill at Sonning

Review written by Ruth Hawkins


Photo credit: Andreas Lambis

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