GIRLS' DULVERTON SELL OUT
"It's what you do, isn't it?" spouts the leery ad man at the
WI Ladies photo shoot "You get your kit off, don't you?" Of course they don't,
well not for him anyway. But they did for Exmoor's
700 who attended Dulverton Players' saucy, sad, and uplifting production of
Calendar Girls last week. This is the true story of a Yorks WI who
make a nude calendar to raise funds to fight 'this pernicious disease', cancer.
It played to five sell-out nights at the Town Hall.
There is nothing seedy about Calendar Girls. It is a
beautiful, heartrending, hilarious and rebellious story. The seven female leads
molded each WI character perfectly, never straying from the joshing, close, and
rival relationships. The script teases the audience. One second you're at a
funeral, gulping back tears for the bereaved wife, the next roaring with
laughter at the very personal, women-only repartee.
Banger Milton, joint master with the Dulverton Farmers,
opens the show with a gentle rendering of Jerusalem.
Later she will be naked (oops, 'nude not naked'!) at the piano where she keeps
the play's music on track throughout. The action then switches quickly, as it
does throughout this smooth production, to the rumbustious Claire Govier
(Chris) who is leading the women's group in her own hilariously makeshift
version of Tai Chi. She is a Dulverton discovery, energetically onstage
throughout, blagging her pals into posing behind cream buns, kettles, marmalade
pots, balls of knitting, lilies, all with no clothes on. Her foil is the
beautifully understated Tamsin Blackmore (Annie), whose honesty, lack of ego
and love for her dying husband, tug the audience between Chris's get-up-and-go
bullishness and Annie's gentle sincerity. Each character is balanced and complementary.
It is a perfect pairing between Claire and Tamsin, managing ego and
bereavement, both losers in midlife, and winners in the end.
You know immediately that these 'Girls' are going to give
you an entertaining evening. Ginny Brown (Jessie, a 68-year-old school ma'am)
brings the house down with well timed references to front bottoms, popping off
to score some crack, and reminding the young, nervous and jittery photographer
(Antony Bartlett) that she used to be his schoolteacher, while he is setting up
the camera to photograph her wearing only a ball of knitting wool.
The Girls also stripped off for their own Exmoor
version of the calendar. Photographed by local gallery professional Mike
Bralowski sales have raised £1060 towards St. Margaret's and Children's
Hospices. A few copies are still available at the Post Office.
Calendar Girls is a tough play to perform. It is made to
look easy with slick and supportive direction by John Thorogood and Marion
Silverlock. There are clever touches throughout: nudity authentically and
tastefully managed; you'll never look at a marmalade jar in
quite the same way again; raining
letters from all over the world out of the sky; John's wheelchair left on stage
signifying his death; the booming speaker voice reminding us of the Girls'
commitment; the climax suffused with sunflowers.
Done well it touches both your heart and your head. The
underlying theme is those sunflowers, which we learn aren't even natural
to this country. Playgoers are greeted by a phalanx of smartly dressed Front of
House and Bar Staff all wearing the cheerful yellow flower. At the climax to
the play, the calendar having raised £1/2 million for a new hospital wing,
fields of sunflowers are projected across the whole stage and curtains. On
the last night those curtains had to be rolled back three times for the
fourteen cast, aged 14 to 68, to
take rapturous applause and two standing ovations.
The technical excellence of the production belies its
straightforward presentation. Costume changes are slick and
unnoticeable. Liz Stanbury's choices cleverly match the audience's – all
local clothes. The set itself is a continuation of the Town Hall decor.
You feel throughout as though you are in this play yourself. Christine Dubery,
Simon Williams, Steve Hall, Tom Lock, Debbie Passmore, and Mary Jackson have
pulled off a masterpiece of simplicity and technical excellence. This
play, the toll which cancer takes, and the country life portrayed, are 'here
and now', amongst us in this hall, town, and county.
The majority audiences are women. You can feel that for many
of the people present their lives have been touched by cancer, as well as
knowing about the mischief making and infidelities portrayed in the script. Our
double standards are easily exposed. The audience roars with approval at the
retribution dished out to Elaine (Kate Ansell plays this role with simpering
condescension) when she is caught out in her affair with Ruth's husband, yet
they also cheer when Ginny Brown reveals there has been someone else in her
life other than her husband privy to 'her pleasant pastures'. Her laugh lines
are perfectly judged.
Debbie Wright's Ruth plays the walked over, goody-goody, who
obeys all the rules until she discovers her Eddy's infidelity with the
beautician and breaks out. She is the perfect foil to Marie's (Suzy Wall)
wonderfully bossy Chairman.
She too has a skeleton in the cupboard, revealed in the second half before she
triumphs over the rival WI at the end.
Each woman has their own very definite character; they play
off each other beautifully. The stars are Tamsin Blackmore (Annie) and Claire
Govier (Chris), backed up with superb teamwork by Suzy Wall, Carol Jones,
Banger Milton, Debbie Wright, and Ginny Brown. The minor parts support the
whole presentation with Charlie Blanning, Alan Marks, Antony Bartlett, Kate
Ansell, Gwenda Bassett, and Mary McMichael, all important to the plot as the
story unfolds. It's a good play for amateurs to introduce new talent.
All of the characters are 'winners' eventually – Annie with
the new hospital wing; Cora reuniting with the black US lover of her
illegitimate child, whom her vicar father wouldn't let her wed; and especially
Carol Jones (Celia), the glamour puss golf 'widow', who brought the house down
with her simplification of the game to "You either get the ball in the hole, or
you don't!" Her presentation of the fashionista ******* in a middle aged WI
The way this group of women get on with bringing their
calendar to fruition, turning it into a hugely successful business venture with
just their own energy and commitment, might give Alan Sugar and other business
gurus pause for thought about how to get things done. The spirit of these
women, this play, and the reason it was a sell-out, demonstrate that real
community commitment might be one drug that does make life work.
Departing playgoers were asking "How can the Players better
this?" "Great to see the Players back up to strength again". Visitors revealed
that they had travelled especially from Cambridge,
The Players even had to apologise to many of their faithful supporters who
couldn't get tickets, despite opening up the Dress Rehearsal to many of them.
Each actor defined their own very different character. They
play off each other with rapid and realistic responses, moving swiftly and
naturally from scene to scene, keeping the audience attentive throughout. The
choreography, music, singing, and humour all flow. Not an aside, nuance, or
comic line is lost. Good teamwork is revealed in the by-play.
The first half climaxes with the photography for the nude
calendar. The second half is a more serious psychological study –
relationships, marriages, affairs, egos, secrets, cover-ups, putting on a brave
face, class and sexual politics exposed, insecurity,
loving co-operation, loss, all feature strongly. Suzy Wall's
bossy, sycophantic snob
had to leave Cheshire for earthy Yorks when her schoolgirl
daughter becomes pregnant with the high flying maths teacher. Little revelations
emerge as the characters unfold. If Celia's mother had not been so secretive
about her breasts "The rest of her might still be with us today."
The actor's body language matched their characters and
script. Charlie Blanning as John Clark, the Yorkshire
horticulturalist, shocks the hall with his deterioration as he fights the
disease with chemotherapy. He portrays with sensitivity that losing battle. His
scenes with Annie have you gulping back distress. The dynamics between him
and his wife, feel real. Later he returns completely transformed into that
leery ad man.
When this professional play was released for amateurs to
stage for twelve months only, Dulverton was one of the first of the 520
applicants. Last week The Players will have contributed to The Guinness Book of
Records for the most performed play in one year, as well as their own audience