Calendar Girls by Tim Firth
The Mill, Banbury, November 2013
Banbury Cross Players again came up trumps with this popular tale of six W.I. members who bare all to produce a calendar in an effort to raise money for a settee in their local hospital in the name of one of their husbands who has died of cancer. It's a truly inspiring story for us all.
The play opens with the ladies attending a W.I. meeting singing Jerusalem. Serious for a short time and then transcending into comedy as leading lady Chris (played with relish by namesake Chrissie Garrett) tries to teach her exotic eastern keep fit routine, something she c learly knows nothing about.
Directed by Clare Lester the production maintained a healthy pace throughout and much credit must go to her for taking on this daunting task.
Chris's pal Annie is the wife of cancer victim John, and was played sensitively but with humour by Jane Shanahan.
John (Heward Simpson) faced his difficult and tragic role well. The death scene worked reasonably as John simply stood up and slowly left the stage, but I think fading the lights and bringing them back up to the empty wheelchair would have worked better.
A small criticism here. John earlier has a fine head of hair, clearly a wig - that's fine, but later there is a scene where he removes his hood to reveal what is now his bald head due to the chemotherapy. This is a very sensitive scene marred a tad by the sight of John's normal bald head and his remaining hair round the sides and back like most bald guys. He should have either had his head shaved or worn a skull cap. A moving moment lost I fear.
Ms Lester chose her cast well, with each actor clearly enjoying their part. Vicar's daughter Cora, played by Susan Martin didn't quite come over as the sassy, hard drinking, swearing, single mother Yorkshire lass but she credit has to be given for her bare-cheeked performance at the piano.
Helen Williams in the role of Ruth worked well as the unloved wife who through posing for the calendar re-kindles her confidence in life and blossoms like the sun-flowers so often portrayed in this play.
June Ronson was also convincing as the cynical ex-school teacher beaten down by a lifetime in the classroom.
Rod portrayed by the talented Nik Lester gave a worthy performance as Chrissie's husband and co-owner of their failing flower shop and Liz Riley in the part of Marie  the W.I. branch president rode the roller coaster of her role well as the snooty proud-to-be-Yorkshire lady who had committed the cardinal sin at one time, going to live in Cheshire.
I must mention the cameo role of Elaine played by Tara Lacey. This a magnificent portrayal of the adulterous make-up artist was played to perfection nearly over the top giving a touch of farce to this sometimes sombre/sometimes comic piece. Excellent.