Annie has lost her husband to cancer and, with the help of Chris (as well as their other friends from the WI group), come up with an ingenious way to raise money and help people – make their own nude calendar, starring themselves.
John Voce, playing Annie’s husband, John, did admirable work in portraying a man slowly succumbing to his illness. Shifts in his physicality, the quality of his voice, and his facial expressions were enough to convey a story of a man who loves his wife and his life ferociously, yet is inexorably being reduced and drawn away by cancer.
Abi Richardson as Annie, and Jenny Seedsman playing her best friend, Chris, are the keystone for the entire show. Both navigated the various tribulations and triumphs of their characters nicely
Lulu McClatchy as the unassuming Ruth did splendid work – especially when it came time to finally assert herself near the end of the play. Kate Gorman’s character of Cora could so easily have been lost in the background, but she did well to give her depth and the audience a reason to listen to her.
There were times you weren’t entirely sure what region of England Tottie Goldsmith was playing Celia from, but she had good presence on stage regardless. Francesca Waters was a delight as Jessie, playing her with gall and guts. As the closest the play comes to a villain, Lise Rogers was excellent as WI leader, Marie.
The blackout at the end of Act 1 came in just a smidge too sharp. Even half a beat longer would have turned those final moments from comedy silver to comedy gold, especially with it coming after the hilarious calendar photo sequence. There was a lovely energy through that photography scene, with the tableaux at the moment the flash would pop off a neat bit of business.
For most part, Director, Peter Snee, is content to let the text and the actors tell the story. However, in a few particularly sentimental moments, he’s apparently been unable to resist having an overwrought, maudlin score play underneath – turning the sentiment into saccharine.
John Kerr’s set design for the church hall – mammoth beams jutting out overhead, tall wooden doors, repeated archways – was magnificent. Unfortunately, it threatened to be too good. At one point, the women leave the church to climb the hillside and view the sunflowers. The difficulty is that the sunflowers now sliding along the backdrop are concealed by both the shadow of the church set and the church set itself.
However, for all its wee flaws, this is a story with plenty of heart. Once the opening night wobbles even themselves out, the show should hum along, bold and bright like a field of sunflowers.
The Athenaeum Theatre, 188 Collins Street, Melbourne
Performance: Friday 29 September 2017 – 7.30pm
Season continues to 7 October 2017
For more information, visit: www.princemooproductions.com for details.
Image: Calendar Girls (supplied)