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New Era Theatre Club - Calendar Girls

29th November to 7th December 2013.

Review from the Newbury Weekly News.

Those cheeky players

Laughter and tears as New Era brave it in the buff for Calendar Girls

New Era Players: Calendar Girls, at the New Era Theatre, Wash Common.from Wednesday, November 27 to Saturday, November 30 and Tuesday, December 3 to Saturday, December 7

Tim Firth's stage version of Calendar Girls is as uplifting and heartwarming as the Women's Institute's home made jam and the singing of Jerusalem and New Era Players did it full justice in their splendid and brave production.

This moving play is based on a true story of a group of WI members in Knapely, Yorkshire whose unusual funding idea to purchase a new settee for the visitors' lounge in the cancer wing where one of the member's husband tragically died of leukaemia, raises eyebrows as well as money.

Their decision to produce a tongue-in-cheek nude calendar becomes an international phenomenon as their target of £519 soared beyond all expectation and eventually reached a staggering £518,000.

The impressive ensemble cast play characters of a "certain age" with assurance.

It is Chris, strongly played by Anne Oldham, who is the protagonist in producing the calendar for her best friend Annie, sensitively performed by Marie Jacobs. Chris also runs the local flower shop with her husband Rod (David Zeke) that is in financial difficulties and are trying to keep the business going.

There are tender moments as Annie's husband John (Nigel Winter) slowly and painfully succumbs to his crippling cancer. His planting of sunflower seeds in the meadow and his empty wheelchair are truly poignant moments.

Sue Keer plays the epitome of the posh overbearing WI chairman Marie, who is proud of her Cheshire origins but certainly doesn't approve of the fund raising venture.

As the eclectic members of the WI practice their t'ai chi we learn more about their individual stories.

The vicar's daughter and hip single mum Cora (Kathleen Ray) is not quite as straight laced as she would appear. Whilst retired schoolteacher Jessie (Pam Hillier-Brook) gets quite a shock when she discovers that the embarrassed photographer Lawrence (James Winter) was a former pupil.

By contrast Sarah Hewitt is the sassy golf-widow Celia who is keen to pose whereas Ruth (Sally Scrivener) is most reluctant but surprisingly in the end agrees to participate much to the delight of all the members of the WI.

Of course the actual photo shoot where cup cakes, tea cosies, knitting, music scores and Christmas presents conceal the well, "bare bosoms" was tastefully achieved with each pose for the month receiving spontaneous applause from the audience.

There was good support from Vikki Goldsmith as the visiting speaker Brenda, Nicola Sowden as Lady Cravenshire as well as the make-up girl Elaine and Tom Buckingham as the exploitive television commercial director.

Skilfully directed by Tim Oldham, this was a thought-provoking production that had the ability to bring laughter and tears and was much appreciated by the enthusiastic audience.