IT PREMIERES next Friday and plays eight shows and while producers were a bit worried right back at the start that they would be struggling to get enough women to audition, the truth is, Calendar Girls was swamped at its auditions.
The latest production from the Tamworth Dramatic Society will pull up the curtain on women who take off their clothes at the Capitol Theatre and it’s hoped to be a sellout, for more than just one reason.
While it’s titillating to talk about women of a certain age who will get their kit off, the truth and the raw reality is that this play is more a celebration of womanhood and warm womanly ways to counter pain and grief.
It’s been a giggle for everyone at times, but also a journey of discovery – and not just for the players.
Producer Rosie Crossing and director Natacha Curnow, who both have some ABC television production experience from different backgrounds, have teamed up for the first time for this tilt at a marvellous play that became a sellout screen success a few years ago.
“We actually had one of the best responses ever to an audition notice,” says Crossing of the lead-up to Calendar Girls going onstage.
She thinks it may have been not just that older women are harder to shock, but they appreciate the challenge of a story that features women of a certain age, rather than another youth quest.
Curnow says the actors have grown into their bits.
“Like all acting roles, the actors and characters grow with each other, which makes for an intriguing performance,” she said.
Crossing has found it a personally absorbing journey, too.
“The character I play is played by Helen Mirren in the film and those are very big shoes to fill! The accent has been challenging but has helped very much with identifying with what is, after all, a real person. Her enthusiasm and energy are infectious. Hopefully the audience will find parts of all the characters they can identify with. Between the six there are many traits common to all of us,” she said.
The cast numbers 12, only three of them men.
“They include people from a range of backgrounds, including a vet, office administrators, driving instructors, farming machinery experts and a news cameraman,” she said.
Crossing does double duty and shares the stage with Gina Halbisch, Robyn Edleston, Robyn Christmas, Geraldine Palmer, Sally Douglas, Kay Campbell, Steve John, Ann Walsh, Ben Sutton, Katt Noland and veteran Bill Gleeson.
The blokes range in age from 20 to 70. Five of the women haven’t been on a stage since they were in school and, as far as Curnow knows, none have taken their gear off in public before – or not that they’re admitting to, anyway.
Says Crossing: “We have four newcomers – Rob Christmas, Robyn Edleston, Kay Campbell and Katt Nolland.
“As Natacha says, we are all from very different backgrounds, and I think that is one of the things that is so wonderful about amateur theatre.
“At the end of a day, when you have been selling machinery,tending to a sick animal, answering phones or teaching unruly kids, you all come together with a common aim and lose yourselves in another world. One you all share.”
They’ve been in rehearsals for two months, two nights a week, but there’s been plenty of homework to do outside that.
“One of the only differences between working in professional and working in amateur circles is, with amateur, you don’t have the luxury of working on the show all day and getting paid for it – you have to go to work to earn the money, look after the kids, get dinners ready and then fit a show in. The dedication is a real love of the craft,” Curnow says.
For the crew and the backstage bodies it’s been a labour of love, too, with sourcing props, making costumes, designing light and sound and whole weekends spent building sets.
“These hours given by the crew are often not considerable, but their contribution cannot be overestimated,” Curnow said.
“The actors are the face of a show, but without a dedicated support team that show would not exist.”
It will play true to its English original production roots, set in Yorkshire but with a broad range of British accents.
That was a larger hurdle to get over than getting their gear off for the girls.
Accents are always difficult, says Curnow, but they’ve done it well.
“I guess the biggest hurdle was always going to be the nudity,” she said.
“However, amazingly, everyone just got on with it (or should that be off with it?). The positive benefit is that I think it increases the sense of camaraderie between the women which is so essential to the heart of the story.”
The production will play next Friday and Saturday nights, a matinee on the Sunday, then Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday the following week, finishing with another Sunday matinee.
The stage will mostly show the church hall scene. There are two acts with 14 scenes in all and loads of costume changes.
“This is a show that will bring a smile to your lips and a tear to your eye. For everyone who has been touched by cancer, it will also touch a nerve,” Crossing said.
Part of the opening night ticket sales will go to the local Serendipity Committee, which supports cancer patients across the region.
They have no office, cars or administration costs. Members of the committee are all volunteers and all funds are raised locally – and used locally, the girls say.
“It is also in keeping with the original Calendar Girls, who set out to raise money for a settee for the local hospital’s cancer ward, and to date have raised more than £3 million for leukaemia and lymphoma research, including through selling the rights of the play to groups such as ourselves,” Crossing said
The opening night is generously sponsored by local solicitors Duncan Maclean and Associates.