CALENDAR GIRLS review. A true story woven by Tim Frith into a two-act play. Director Wesley Figaji. Presented by Pinelands Players. At the Masque Theatre, Cape Town, until 21 December 2019. SHEILA CHISHOLM reviews.

Courage comes in many guises. It could be overcoming acrophobia (fear of heights), arachnophobia (fear of spiders), ophidiophobia (fear of snakes). Or it could be overcoming bossy Marie’s (articulate Jane de Sousa) negative response to six fellow Women’s Institute (WI) women’s determination to raise ℒ580 – it’s the money required to purchase a comfortable chair for Knapeley’s Oncology Department’s waiting room.

But her disquiet could be valid.

Pinelands Players tackle Calendar Girls
Pinelands Players tackle Calendar Girls

A brilliant idea

Annie (Santie Roy) spent months in that miserable waiting room waiting for her husband John (sensitively played by Richard Whittaker) to receive treatment for leukaemia. When he dies, Chris (Laura Bosman) – Annie’s extrovert best friend – suggests they, together with Tai Chi classmates, pose in tasteful nude (definitely not naked) poses for a calendar.

From calendar sales, a comfortable chair in John’s memory, could be bought for the waiting room. It’s a brilliant idea.

Chris and Annie’s friends – all pretty well past Zozibini Tunzi’s Miss Universe bloom – comprise spunky piano player Cora (Melissa Sanderson), down-to-earth knit one purl one Jessie (Su Cunningham), golf widow Celia (Lesley Boxall) and introvert marmalade maker Ruth (Miranda Lewis).

However, it takes some courage before they agree to drop their dressing gowns in front of photographer Lawrence (Jason Bailey). Eventually helped by swigging Vodka, a laughing audience and a sunflower covering ‘strategic’ areas  Lawrence does succeed taking Cecil Beaton quality photographs.

Now with 12 pictures (one for each month) in hand, Les Six’s next hurdle is obtaining the National WI Council’s thumbs up to sell the calendar under their banner. Ouch!! It takes a right good wigging from Chris to bring those straightlaced WI fuddies to agree.

From there Tim Frith’s Calendar Girls takes off. Not only do these Yorkshire women raise millions of pounds, they become international stars, and ‘mail order’ counsellors to others suffering from, or bereaved, by cancer.

Calendar Girls is true. One to which both author Frith and director Wesley Figaji bring humour, poignancy and an awareness of living each day. While Annie weeps for her John, Chris fights with her husband Rod (James Skilton). He’s a rough diamond to be sure but the loving bunch of sunflowers he gives her become the global symbol for ‘Hope’ to those living with cancer.

The Bosman, Boxall, Cunningham, Lewis, Roy, Sanderson’s character interpretations, superbly play out every intended detailed nuance – Yorkshire accents included.

Each woman is battling a personal demon. Yet linked by well portrayed cameo roles, from Wendy Goddard as Brenda the nervous lecturer on broccoli, toffee-nosed Barbara Basel as Lady Cravenshire, Jasmine Minter as TV makeup artist Elaine and Wayne Hendricks as opportunist Liam, made…Calender Girls an artistic and emotional winner.

Following tradition, Pinelands Players have produced a Calendar Girls 2020 calendar. Do buy one to remember a grand evening at The Masque, and the courage of six simple Yorkshire women whose courage changed the face of cancer awareness.

What: Calendar Girls Pinelands Players
When: Until 21 December 2019
Where: Masque Theatre Cape Town