Theatre Review: Calendar Girls @ Noel Coward Theatre

By Johnny Fox Last edited 102 months ago
Theatre Review: Calendar Girls @ Noel Coward Theatre

j5f.jpg There are nights in the theatre for which you gladly queue round the block months in advance, secure in the knowledge that the magnitude of the screen star you hope to see outweighs any reservations about the play, the director or the ticket price. It was such considerations paved our way to Ingrid Bergman in Waters of the Moon at the Haymarket in the 70s, to Elizabeth Taylor in The Little Foxes at the Victoria Palace in the 80s, to Madonna in Speed-the-Plow and to Harry Potter getting his wand out in Equus …

… so it was with a similar feeling of excited curiosity we anticipated the stage rehabilitation - in the new cast of Calendar Girls - of the leopard-print legend that was the nation's favourite barmaid Bet Lynch, Corrie’s own Ms Julie Goodyear.

Not that this is really a star vehicle, she plays the third or fourth lead, a character listed as ‘vicar’s daughter, single mother and church organist’ although in a long white-blonde wig, stiletto bootees and sparkly accessories she appears to be dressed for the homeward leg of a particularly gruelling Country and Western tour of Tennessee rather than a tramp up the Yorkshire Dales.

It’s what you might call a ‘carpentry’ performance: she nails many of the comic lines, and screws others. But it’s a genuine delight to see this much-loved veteran of the longest running soap opera confront her core audience in her West End debut.

Apart from that, you could wonder what’s in it for Londonist readers and the answer’s not much: the story of the members of Rylstone Womens Institute who raised half a million pounds for Leukaemia research by posing tastefully nude for a calendar has been better chronicled in the 2003 Helen Mirren/Julie Walters movie. The story’s too well-aired to be gripping, the production too clumsy and cheap, and there are some truly terrible performances. It’s so not cool, it may even become cult viewing.

Hamish McColl’s direction is staggeringly uneven, mixing warm and naturalistic characterisations from the always-reliable Janie Dee and surprisingly strong Arabella Weir as the promoters of the calendar, and solid comic acting from both Goodyear and vintage sitcomista Rosalind Knight. At the other end of the scale is an appalling clumping knockabout turn by Helen Lederer as the prim chairperson of the WI branch.

This shoutily inaccurate, one-dimensional foot-stomping performance is one of the worst in the West End for a long time, although Kelly Brook’s dismally incoherent attempt at an upmarket golf widow runs it pretty close. The production also features the inexplicable casting of ex-BBC newsreader Jan Leeming as the Duchess of Yorkshire or somesuch. She looks bewildered as if she’s just doing it for Comic Relief, which she isn’t.

Photograph from www.juliegoodyearmbe.com

Calendar Girls continues at the Noel Coward Theatre until January 2010. Tickets £5-48.50 including a £1.50 donation to Leukaemia Research. Box Office 0844 482 5140 or through the website.

Last Updated 04 November 2009

Cassie Mortmain

I thought Rob James-Collier, Corrie's hunky Liam was supposed to be in this?

JohnnyFox

Spoke to the press office about this - a girl called Arabella (aren't PRs always called that?) said Rob James Collier was in the cast until the week before opening when he pulled out due to a new television role he'd acquired.

The producers then had to scrabble round a bit to find a replacement, not an understudy, and drafted in Carl Prekopp who had played Lawrence the photographer during the 2008 post-Chichester tour.

JohnnyFox

I mean I had (previously) spoken to the Press Office about this, not between your post at 12.57am and mine at 8.08 !!!

:-)

In our short Londonist review format, there wasn't space to cover that.

'Arabella' did say that in the PR office they mainly concentrated on the ladies in the show - but when I suggested quite a lot of the ladies in the audience, and not a few men, would prefer to concentrate on the hunky Rob, she readily agreed!

Since his character doesn't get his kit off, perhaps they haven't missed too much.

Chris Browne

Funny how 2 people can see the same show and have such a different view. Of course on a first night all of the cast were nervous, however, sitting at the back the only one we could hear clearly was Helen Lederer who gave undoubtedly the best performance on the night. Who is the amateur reviewer?

JohnnyFox

In the sense that no-one on Londonist gets paid, Chris, I guess we are all 'amateur' reviewers.

And a review is only an opinion so yours is as good as mine ...

... although I did bother to sit through this show twice with different casts, and felt that Brigit Forsyth made a much more credible and sympathetic character of the WI Chairperson, and in an authentic Yorkshire accent, whereas Lederer seemed to be playing herself, or a caricature thereof.

bill james

I loved this show. Really funny, and occasionally really sad, you come out at the end feeling that you have had a great nights entertainment. I thought helen lederer was superb as marie, and as for kelly brook - gorgeous, bubbly, fun, vibrant, - and a body so fantastic you think you must be hallucinating. She acted pretty well too - must be improving with practice!

JohnnyFox

You could well be right, Bill, that Kelly Brook has improved with time. She couldn't be much worse than the opening Monday night - I saw Danny Cipriani rushing round to the stage door after the show, one wonders what he had to say to her!

Surprisingly the management allowed no 'preview' time for this cast, who had to open cold to the press on their first time in front of the public. Possibly that's because they're only in the run for less than ten weeks.

There were clearly some technical issues, which have hopefully been resolved at the same time the acting has warmed up a bit.