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Theatre Review (Singapore): Calendar Girls by Tim Firth

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The Stage Club’s latest offering was Calendar Girls by Tim Firth, which ran at the DBS Arts Centre from October 17-20, 2012.

Calendar Girls tells the tale of a group of women who are part of the Women’s Institute (WI), a British community organisation for women. When one of them, Annie, faces life without her husband, who dies from cancer, her friend and fellow WI member Chris comes up with a plan to donate a couch to the hospital that took care of Annie’s husband. In order to raise funds to buy the couch, Chris and Annie persuade their friends to pose nude for a calendar. Of course in the small English town of Yorkshire, where the play is set, this sparks all sorts of concerns and raises the townfolks’ eyebrows.

Tim Firth wrote the play based on the screenplay of the same name he co-authored. However as noted by many theatre critics and reviewers, whilst the movie version of Calendar Girls was packed with punch and had good pace, the play version tends to thin out towards the second half. Overly long, the play doesn’t have enough of a story to run for more than two hours. Furthermore, the first part of the play, which establishes the characters and their relationships to each other before Annie’s husband dies, plays out too long. For a while, you wonder when the story is actually going to start.

It’s worthy of note that Stage Club’s production was manned, as all their productions are, by actors and production crew who were mostly volunteers and not proper theatre professionals.

The level of acting was a bit erratic, as some of the actors were a tad over the top, such as Angela Barolsky’s portrayal of leading character Carrie and Debbie Smith who played quiet, innocent Ruth, while other actors were underacting, such as Jaclyn Scott who played church-raised Cora and Sarah Mitchell who played Annie. I also had a problem with Valerie Guichard who played WI leader Marie, as her natural French accent made her delivery sound strange as she struggled to throw a faux English accent into her dialogue. In addition, Guichard’s contrived over-acting didn’t help convince us of her character either.

Also, quite a few of the actors kept flubbing their lines, often repeating part of a line with the correct words inserted, a problem that was quite obvious each time one of them faltered.

The standout performers included Jane Grafton, whose delivery of dialogue was impeccable and whose performance was subtle yet layered. It was Grafton’s no-nonsense Jessie who got the crowd laughing the most at her witty and humourous lines. Anny Vardy who played worldly Celia also has to be commended, as she had stage presence and nailed her comedic lines perfectly.

Although he had a small role as Annie’s cancer-stricken husband John, Barry Woolhead gave a very convincing and natural portrayal of a charming man who turned sickly within the first half of the play.

It was a bit strange that the actors didn’t seem to be miked, which meant that some of the dialogue couldn’t be heard well. This was especially troublesome when it came to Jaclyn Scott who spoke so softly that many of the comedic lines Cora spewed went unnoticed.

The Stage Club is Singapore’s oldest theatre company, and it’s indeed praiseworthy that this amateur company has always been run by performers and crew who are doing it all for the sake of their love for the arts, on a voluntary basis. It’s rare to find a theatre company that has survived this long based on just passion. However, whilst Calendar Girls offered a few laughs, I wish Stage Club had chosen a more exciting play with a bigger story, and something that their non-professional volunteer actors could perhaps have taken on with more ease and efficacy too.

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About Sharmila Melissa Yogalingam

Ex-professor, Ex-phd student, current freelance critic, writer and filmmaker.