I was slightly wary about going to see this play, as it could have looked as if I was sloping into the theatre in the hope of seeing a burlesque show starring women of my mother’s generation, so I wore my hat strategically dipped below one eye and my scarf covering my face, and nobody seemed to notice anything amiss.
Anyway, as you probably know, this is the stage version of the film adaptation of the true story of a Women’s Institute group in Yorkshire, who posed nude in 2000 for an ‘alternative WI calendar’ to raise money for a sofa in the visitor’s area of a nearby hospital. The women were prompted to do this following the death of one of their husbands. The calendar was an immediate – and ultimately international – success, raising millions of pounds for leukaemia research. In fact, a tenth anniversary calendar will be produced for 2010.
The stage version features an impressive cast (Patricia Hodge, Linda Bellingham, Julia Hills, Brigit Forsyth, and other familiar names) and they seem to have a lot of fun with a funny script, and everyone performs well, though arguably – and perhaps inevitably – the scene where they’re posing for the photos gets the biggest laughs, but it is very cleverly done. I’m not any kind of expert on these things, but the set and scene-changes were smoothly done too.
I might quibble slightly with the way a couple of obstacles in the second half seem to come up rather without warning, as if there’s a need to create some conflict, but to be honest that minor complaint is more than outweighed by the overall quality of the show, and I should add that I was particuarly impressed by the way that the husband’s death which is the catalyst for events isn’t milked for every last ounce of emotion, which would have been an easy route.
Definitely worth a look, I’d say, and a good example of a very ‘English’ kind of comedy, if you know what I mean – witty, and a little bit bawdy, but unlikely to offend (though two people in our row didn’t return after the interval; can they really have come to see the play without knowing what it was about and been that shocked?).
Ironically enough, this play about women taking off their clothes is running at the Noel Coward Theatre in London (until September, I think, though the run may have been extended). You can get tickets at good prices (we were right up in the balcony, and could still see all right) from the usual online places.
And just to reassure my male readers, no, it wasn’t like an oedipal burlesque show. You can safely attend without danger of feeling all strange in that way.