Two dates with Calendar Girls – but no red-letter day
FIRST NIGHT REVIEW
By Tristram Hawkshaw, theatre critic
As a professional critic of long experience – I still treasure dear Dame Judi’s début at the RSC – I pride myself on being able to absorb, appreciate and assimilate the very essence of a production after a single viewing. (Blimey, get on with it Tris. Ed).
In the case of Lynda Snell’s production of Calendar Girls at Lower Loxley, however, I was confounded. The saveur and ambience of the first night were completely ruined by a claque of unruly hoodlums, waving plastic geese, whistling and cat-calling like a rugby club outing. (It was a rugby club outing. Ed)
Already distrait by the antics of these voyeurs, I was then obliged to close my eyes for the pivotal photography scene, as the set had been clumsily staged, giving some of us a view of the cast that no amount of iced buns or mince pies could decently conceal.
In the spirit of candour I should also admit that by this point, Mrs Elizabeth Pargetter’s generous servings of egg nog in the press room may have taken their toll, as I awoke to the curtain calls.
A lesser critic (and I make no mention of Dylan Nells here) may have cobbled up a review from this thin fare, but not Tristram Hawkshaw!
And so it was I returned to Lower Loxley the following evening, incognito, to see the entire divertissement.
I had particularly been looking forward to the performance of Susan Carter as Chris, having admired her Edith in Blithe Spirit last year. Again she did not disappoint, despite a rather ill-judged ‘Babydoll Santa’ outfit in the Christmas tableau.
The costume department also displayed its limitations – and rather more besides – with a malfunction to the rabbit suit worn by Ruth (Kirsty Miller). However, Ms Miller’s anguished cry from the wings: ‘I can’t go on with my bum hanging out!’ would have been better delivered sotto voce.
The programme notes promised us ‘art, imitating life, imitating art, imitating life’. There was certainly a frisson of genuine chemistry between Annie, played by the fragrant Mrs Pargetter, and Roy Tucker as her husband.
Those of us who attended Loxfest last summer cannot fail to be reminded of the folie à deux between these two, although unlike Annie’s John, Mr Tucker is unfortunately still very much with us.
However, it was the last-minute, inspired casting of Jean Harvey as Jessie that lifted this production from the so-so to the (almost) sublime.
Commanding the stage from its centre in every scene (despite some rather inept attempts to dislodge her by other cast members) Miss Harvey displayed all the brio, panache and gravitas that so distinguish her performances at FLOPS.
Even when her piece of concealing knitting proved inadequate to its task, she carried on toute nue with the dignity of a grande dame – dismissing with a single, imperious gesture the stick-on silver stars that Susan Carter was inexplicably thrusting at her from the wings.
I had thought Miss Harvey’s Gertrude unsurpassable, but her Jessie is a thing of wonder and will long remain in the memories of all who saw it.
Unfortunately, her dazzling tour de force completely eclipsed the lesser lights around her – although the delirious applause of friends and family in the audience will no doubt persuade Mrs Snell, erroneously, that she has triumphed once again.