A sparkling start to Stables season

Calendar Girls by Tim Firth, Stables Theatre, Hastings. February 1 to 9. Review by Penny Jeffries.

Directed by Nicky Harris, the Stables Theatre’s exciting production of Calendar Girls played to packed houses with unrestrained laughter filling the auditorium.

The curtain rose on a quintessential village hall complete with tea hatch and notice-board. Tremendous attention to detail had been lavished on the production with live music providing an extra dimension and impressive costumes throughout.

Annie, played with humour and dignity by Maxine Roach, and her best friend Chris (Paula Croft), up until now the giggling class clowns of the WI, decide to create a calendar of ‘tasteful nude shots...not naked’ to raise money for a new sofa for the relatives’ room at their local hospital. Maxine Roach brought immense pathos to her performance as Annie - her scenes with her husband John were both emotional and funny. After his death, as the pace of the action quickens, she remains steadfast and grounded. Leigh Scheindlinger, as John, rose superbly to the challenge of playing a terminally ill man who never loses his self-possession and Paula Croft’s, Chris, gave a memorable performance as someone immersed in a media frenzy who nearly loses her way.

The centrepiece of the play remains the interaction between its women. Josie Body, playing Jessie delivered one liners with verve; Tara Buchanan as Celia displayed glamour and humour in equal measure; downtrodden Ruth, was deftly played by Kate Dyer; Victoria Rowland handled the piano and the one-liners with consummate skill. They were compelling as a group of women doing something outside their comfort zone for a higher goal. And Anne Edwards gave a tremendous performance as the Chairwoman unable to control events, clinging to dignity.

The play was also well served by its male characters: Rick Baker as husband Rob lending a note of bafflement at the media storm that engulfs them and Alec Mohun Smith as Lawrence the photographer, whose commitment to the calendar makes the shots come alive.

The show sparkled with cameos: Julie Tucker-Williams’ Brenda, the guest speaker you would least like to hear, Christine Spencer’s vapid Aristocrat Lady Cravenshire, Fiona Batey as the Beautician who realises, just too late, that she has patronised the wrong woman and Alec Mohun Smith as Liam the misunderstanding TV Producer.