Let us now praise populist entertainment. It's not necessarily deep, it's not innovative, and it doesn't change perceptions of theatre as an art form. But what it does is entertain, it keeps the audience engaged, it gives casts fun things to play and it hopefully brings nice amounts of box office to a theatre company.
Such is "Calendar Girls", which... yes, is basically a movie on stage (although it brings the scope back to one hall and a hill, rather than the international shenanigans that showed up in the film). But it's a friendly, funny piece with plenty of great roles for women of a range of ages and sizes, and just a spice of sauciness. There are plenty of laughs, just a few sad bits, and of course the nude calendar shoot centerpiece which tips it over the edge into hysteria.
Director Catherine Hill pulls together a tight company, played out on Russell Brown's adaptable set. Central are Elaine Noon as Annie, the heart of so much of the piece, and Naone Carrel as Chris, who gets a lot of the more outrageous comedy and is the source of at least two of the bigger dramatic moments. Jon Garland's role is to incite the action, which he does gorgeously sympathetically - he and Noon have that lived-in-feel of a real couple. Of the rest of the Calendar girls, most get at least part of a subplot each, although Anne Yuille's Jessie doesn't, and therefore seems to steal the show frequently by just getting all the best lines instead and delivering them devilishly well (I've not seen Yuille before, her last gig was around 20 years ago - I'm hoping she'll be snaffled up into the Canberra Theatrical regulars quick smart). The rest feel like their subplots are a tad tacked on - Megs Skillicorn's gormlessness would shine just as brightly without the tacked on straying husband, similarly Liz deTotth's Cora doesn't really need the departed daughter to bring her strength and humour, and Nikki-Lynn Hunter's monologue about unhappiness in the world of golfing clubs also feels kinda superflous.
Elsewhere in the cast - Paul Jackson's ability as a physical comedian are getting better and better - as the photographer Lawrence, his reactions are 50% of what makes the calendar shoot hilarious. Judi Crane's Marie is wonderfully imperious, with some wonderful layering, particularly in her act two showdown with Chris. Rob deFries seems to be going through an experiment where his love interests are getting older, which ... is nice, but otherwise there isn't much to his part - he's fine for what it demands, but it demands very little. Sam Hannan-Morrow's cameo is quite delightfully amoral - he's really quite brutal in a few short words, particularly "it's what you do, isn't it?"
Again, this is not theatre that reinvents the form, but it's a solidly craftsmanlike piece speckled with moments of extreme joy (the end of act one in particular) and occasional sadness.