REVIEW: Hathersage Players triumph in Calendar Girls

Jane Litherland as Miss October. Rita Maxwell as Miss January, Vicky Harris as Miss July, Emily Upton as Miss September, Melanie  Jennings as Miss November and Becky Winstanley as Miss February, left to right, in Calendar Girls to be staged by Hathersage Players.
Jane Litherland as Miss October. Rita Maxwell as Miss January, Vicky Harris as Miss July, Emily Upton as Miss September, Melanie Jennings as Miss November and Becky Winstanley as Miss February, left to right, in Calendar Girls to be staged by Hathersage Players.
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Living with cancer is a traumatic experience for patients and their loved ones.

Those who have overcome the disease are haunted by the fear that it could return, while the suffering is immense for the families of those who have lost dear relatives to the big c.

It’s amazing how strong the human spirit can be in the face of heartbreak, overcoming adversity to do something positive for others in the same boat.

Such is the ethos behind bitter-sweet comedy, Calendar Girls, which Hathersage Players are presenting to sell-out audiences this week.

Few can watch it without thinking of relatives or friends who have been in the same situation as the characters on stage, whether they be grieving widows or supportive pals.

That’s down to the powerful performances of the actors in a production which see-saws between laugh-out-loud lines and tear-jerking scenes.

They vividly portray the true story of women who get their kit off for a charity calendar, motivated by one of their husbands fighting a vain battle against cancer.

Six actresses make the nudes and it’s all done in the best possible taste- after all, they are supposed to be “respectable” WI members. Large reflectors provide cover for the dare-to-bare brigade as they slip out of dressing gowns and pick up big buns, knitting and garlands of flowers to hide their naughty bits. The timing is spot-on and there’s absolutely nothing on show to make a nun blush.

Sterling work from Jane Litherland, playing the inspiring group leader Chris, who got two impromptu round of applause during the course of the show last night (Thursday, October 24).

Equally good is Becky Winstanley in the role of Annie whose husband John (Mike Rodgerson) loses his battle for life but leaves behind a legacy of sunflowers which bloom on the Yorkshire moors.

Any production about the WI just wouldn’t be the same without Jerusalem and Vicky Harris is in good voice as the vicar’s daughter and single mum, Cora, as she opens the show with a solo.

Fellow nudes are played by Melanie Jennings as Ruth who finally gets revenge on the beautician who stole her husband, Rita Maxwell as retired teacher Jessie who embarrasses the photographer, one of her old pupils (played by Jamie Benson) and Emily Upton, the glamorous golfer with a penchant for vodka.

Sally Craike adds to the comedy as the stuffy and snobby WI chairman Marie, who frowns on the nude calendar but eventually warms to it when she realises that the ground-breaking idea has inspired a rival WI to follow suit.

Technically, Calendar Girls provide Hathersage Players with one of the most difficult shows to stage. Flat screens at the side of the stage are swivelled around, two large screens at the back are pulled apart to reflect the scene changes between WI hall, national conference and moorland. There was just one instance last night when this was intrusive: as the cast did tai chi among sunflowers during the finale, the serenity was marred by the screech of screens being pulled apart at the back.

All in all, one of the best shows that the company have ever staged and is fully deserving of its sell-out success.

Hathersage Players’ production of Calendar Girls is part of a world attempt to produce the most productions of a play in 18 months and raise money at the same time.

The company is giving £1 from every ticket sale, donations from programmes and end-of-show collections to Yorkshire Cancer Research, Weston Park Hospital and Sheffield Children’s Hospital Cancer Unit. Members of Moorseats WI are selling cakes, cookies and other goodies in aid of the cancer charities on a stall during the interval.

GAY BOLTON