I am the Lord of Hartforth, an ancient village located aside Yorkshire Dales National Park in northern England. Not a lot goes on there. It is highly conservative, where people pride themselves on proper behavior. Forty-two miles to the south is Rylstone, an equally proper village. The Rylstone Women’s Institute shot to fame with its 1999 society calendar because its distinguished ladies were photographed nude. Angela Baker, whose husband John, an assistant national park officer, died from non-Hodgkins lymphoma in July 1998 at age 54, inspiring the idea for the calendar. There were a lot of people riled up in Rylstone; this simply was not proper English protocol. When Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York, was caught topless in August 1992, she was kicked out of Balmoral Castle and shunned by the royal household for some 16 years. Likewise, the 11 women featured in the nudie calendar certainly raised eyebrows, even among the liberal folks; however, the women also raised £2million for leukaemia research, and their publicity stunt spawned a hit movie starring Helen Mirren. The movie spawned a stage play, Calendar Girls.
Now on stage at Diamond Head Theatre is Calendar Girls, based on the true story of Angela and John Baker. It is amazing. Both of my grandmothers died from cancer; it wreaks havoc on families. First there is the shocking news which leads to weeks of crying, then begging God to cure the disease, then months of radiation and chemo where you vomit constantly and feel like you’ve been thrown into a microwave oven. Calendar Girls takes us through the ugly experiences, watching your loved one die in front of you.
In the play, after Annie’s husband John dies of leukemia, she and best friend Chris resolve to raise money for a local hospital. They manage to persuade four friends to pose nude with them for an “alternative” calendar. The news of the women’s charitable venture spreads like wildfire, and hordes of press soon descend their small village in the Yorkshire Dales. The calendar is a success, but Chris and Annie’s friendship is put to the test under the strain of their new-found fame.
Directed by Ahnya Chang and Written by Tim Firth. It’s now starring Betty Bolton, Colleen Parlee, Dawn Powell, Liz Stone, Holly Holowach, Susan Hawes, Zoe Sher, Regina Ewing, Ann Brandman, Lisa Konove, Shane Noel, Mo Radke, Jesie Rocetes and Brian Bond.
Director Ahnya Chang said, “When considering taking on this production, with its themes of friendship, love, loss, hope, renewal, and reflection, with its handling of sexism, ageism, and empowerment, it was easy to find interesting and relatable elements. This is a funny, sweet, and moving show, and as the popularity of the 2003 film clearly demonstrates, audiences do not find it difficult to cheer on these characters as they embark on their titillating project. When it comes to the eradication of cancer and the alleviation of pain for those in need, we are all on board, and that is an attractive prospect when you start the process of telling a story.”
I found the show riveting. It really hit home; this is a compelling story. Yes, there is real nudity on stage – but I’d walk naked down Kalakaua Avenue if it would cure cancer. Sometimes, we have to figure out what really matters in life. To me, what these women did really mattered. I highly recommend seeing this play.
Parts of the show can be overwhelming for someone grieving over the loss of a loved one. Susan Hawes is stellar as Celia, a socialite (in her own eyes) who plays golf and can be relied on to have a drink or two stashed somewhere about her person. Although a drunk, and maybe not as grand as Celia considers herself, what she does say elevates her to an esteemed position:
“Some people need upsetting. I spend half my life with people who need upsetting. I joined a golf club – do you think I planned to? I was lured to Yorkshire with all this ‘Ohh come back ‘ome, love, let me take you back to live in God’s county.’ I agree. We move ….. suddenly he comes down with this disease called ‘Golf’. And it’s terminal. Suddenly if I want to see him it means spending half my life with a group of woman who – sorry ‘ladies’ – who pathologically make rules to make sure no one gets upset! Rules for the putting green … and the locker room! And the bar! And – God’s SAKE – ‘Conversation Codes for the Captain’s dinner’ so we don’t stray off the subject of golf when all you can basically say about golf is, ‘I didn’t hit it straight so it missed the hole but if I had’ve hit it straight it would’ve gone in the hole’. And of course all the stuff they really want to say still gets said. Just behind people’s backs. Usually mine. ‘Celia’s front is never backward in coming forwards.’ And DAMN right it isn’t. Which is exactly how it should be. Y’r breasts aren’t something that should get hidden away for some bloody social – pathetic – whatever – reason but I tell you what, thanks to women like the bloody golf club girls they ARE. And if my mum hadn’t been too mortified to show doctors her breasts when the time came, we’d still have the rest of her. Which is why what I’d like to say to the Hermes mafia of the Ladies’ Bar is, ‘Get down to the WI, girls. Come and hang out with the real women of this county and learn a little debauchery before it’s too bloody late.’ Cheers.”
Shows are Thursdays – Sundays. Evening shows start at 7:30PM Thursday – Saturdays. Sunday shows are at 4:00 PM and Saturday matinees are at 3:00 PM.
Chris: Betty Bolton
Annie: Colleen Parlee
Jessie: Holly Holowach
Celia: Susan Hawes
Ruth: Liz Stone
Cora: Dawn Powell
Marie: Lisa Konove
Brenda Hulse: Ann Brandman
John: Shane Noel
Rod: Mo Radke
Lady Cravenshire: Regina Ewing
Lawrence: Jesie Rocetes
Elaine: Zoë Sher
Liam: Brian Bond
WI Members: Ann Brandman, Monique Frazier, Frances Hisashima, Jill Wakabayashi