The usual call to “break a leg” will be replaced by “remember your prop” when the Echo Players present the comedy Calendar Girls beginning tonight at Village Theatre in downtown Qualicum Beach.
The play, based on a true story and already immortalized in a 2003 film starring Helen Mirren, follows a group of Yorkshire women, members of the Knapeley branch of the Women’s Institute, who are intent on raising money for a memorial for one of their husbands, who has died of leukemia. After butting heads with their staid and social-climbing chapter president (Ruth Morrison), they finally receive the go-ahead to produce a discreetly posed nude calendar.
Instead of the modest sum with which they’d hoped to purchase a sofa for the hospital visitors’ lounge where the husband had been treated, the women raise hundreds of thousands of pounds and draw international attention for the calendar.
The core of the Echo Players’ production, directed by Don Harper, is an ensemble of six Women’s Institute members with a diverse range of personalities, motivations and background stories. Chris (Vicki Barta) brings forward the idea of the nude calendar and becomes ringleader of the project in partnership with Annie (Rosalee Sullivan), whose husband John has died of cancer.
They are joined by fellow WI members Cora (Pamela Brown), a single mother with a mystery in her past; Jessie (Kathy Harper), a bellicose former schoolteacher; the vivacious and flirtatious Celia (Darilyn Keene); and the meek and naive Ruth (Teresa Stanley), a reluctant participant.
The first act is a whirlwind of activity and laughs, ending with a frenetic calendar photo shoot in which the six women literally drop their tops to pose behind strategically placed flower arrangements, baked goods, knitting, sheet music and teapots.
Echo Players newcomer Julian Packer makes the most of his limited stage time as John, Annie’s cancer-stricken husband. In a series of brief appearances he convincingly descends from a vigorous middle-aged man to a bald, withered husk in a wheelchair, all the while retaining his essential good humour and anchoring some of the show’s most poignant and suspenseful moments.
Calendar Girls is billed as a comedy, but this is not a classic British farce of wire-to-wire belly laughs and slapstick.
Conflicts between the friends emerge after the initial rush of their success as motivations are questioned, and pre-existing life issues continue to intrude on the group’s cohesion.
In addition, the topics of cancer and women’s empowerment are addressed seriously. And there is some brief, forceful language, for those considering bringing very young children.
The cast members, who are clearly enjoying themselves, balance the laughs and the tears deftly, though the pace of the action slows somewhat in a more introspective second act.
The set design is simple and straightforward, though it does provide one notable visual surprise as Annie reads a letter from a fellow cancer victim family member.
Shows will be held at 7:30 p.m.each evening Oct. 8-11, 14-18, 21-25 and 28-30 at Village Theatre, 110 West 2nd Ave.
Tickets are $20 for adults, $17 for seniors and $11 for students with ID card. Groups of 10 or more can get discounted tickets, and season passes for Echo Players’ four 2015-16 productions also provide savings.
Tickets may be ordered in advance at the theatre box office, by calling 250-752-3522 or by e-mailing email@example.com.
Learn more at www.echoplayers.ca.
Win one of three pairs of tickets to Calendar Girls. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org with “Calendar Girls” in the subject line. Deadline: Saturday, Oct. 10.