REVIEW: Calendar girls, Academy Theatre, Birdwell

The Birdwell/Dearne Calendar Girls who are producing a charity calendar along with their performances beginning September 1.
The Birdwell/Dearne Calendar Girls who are producing a charity calendar along with their performances beginning September 1.
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CALENDAR Girls! Hear the phrase and most people will link it with the WI, a stage show, the film starring Julie Walters and Helen Mirren - and a poignant story.

But this month the play was launched locally, for a limited time only in community theatres. I went to see the LS Theatre Productions’ version at Birdwell, with an open mind....

I had not seen the play before. It was an absolute triumph.

From the opening set, you believed in these characters. It was as if you had walked straight in to situations between people you knew - all somehow familiar, and stamping their (strong) personalities on their roles.

The talented cast (hand-picked from over 100 hopefuls) drew the audience in quickly and easily, making seamless transitions from aching sadness to shared humour.

Everyone has experienced cancer..... through the suffering of friends, family or in a wider context. It touches everyone. And brave Jennifer Crummack who played Annie had had personal tragedy of losing her husband, to add real poignancy to her mirrored role.

In today’s world the story is utterly current on one level, and quaint in another...members’ angst about shielded nudity when bare flesh is so commonplace, for example, is funny.

The performances in general were so strong it’s hard to pick out individuals, and I’m not going to...

Threads of shared experience and friendship bound the audience and cast throughout. There were constant eruptions of laughter at characters’ well-portrayed idiosyncracies.

For one performance, original WI calendar girl Beryl Bamforth visited and took her place in the audience. Director Lee Semley said: “She was simply delightful.. warm, funny and genuinely interested in all aspects of our production. We made a big entrance for her and the audience applauded as she took her seat. Beryl stayed until 11pm chatting to the cast and answering questions. I was so proud and genuinely moved by having this inspirational woman attend my show.”

Calendars featuring the Birdwell cast were produced and have made hundreds of pounds through after-show sales for the Weston Park Hospital Cancer Appeal. Proceeds from the opening night went to the Barnsley Hospice and a percentage of royalties to Leukaemia Research.

At the end of the performance - and time just flew, I felt moved and full of admiration for the handling of the play. It was intimate, atmospheric and strong.

The ladies (and gents) of the cast should be proud. And no wonder people piled in to the lovely little Academy Theatre to watch them over the whole two weeks. Congratulations to all. SB