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Calendar Girls as presented by Bravo Theatre Group

Calendar Girls as presented by Bravo Theatre Group

Date of Adjudicated Performance: Friday 29th September, 2023

Gilbert Section - Peter Kennedy

Perhaps with Calendar Girls, more than any show I’ve seen, the real star of the show is not the leading lady or man, nor the supporting characters, nor the comedy back-up, but the story itself, crafted so beautifully to show the darker and the lighter sides of coping with tragedy. The job of the director, I believe, is to let it run naturally, honestly and with sincerity. It doesn’t require gimmicks, special effects, outrageous performances or any superfluous flannel, for as written, it is simply beautiful, courageous and heart-melting. Director, Pat McElwain’s great success with this Bravo production, was in allowing it to follow that free-flowing, natural path from the page to the stage, which he did, with superb reality and un-forced sentiment. He used the stage very well, dressed it appropriately, and judged the timing of the emotional scenes to perfection, and with very few exceptions, the mood, the comedy and the sentiment were perfectly captured. That he was also blessed with a superb cast who really got under the skin of the story, was a considerable bonus.

Jay Origan, brought a wealth of wonderful comedic ability to the role of Chris, and while she made us laugh so heartily throughout, it was often the more emotional scenes of her performance that showed her true range as a performer. As a stalwart friend to Annie, as a caring and concerned mother to Danny, and as the catalyst for the Calendar campaign, she ran the full gamut of emotions with a comfort and ease that were remarkable. With good vocal ability to bolster her acting and comedy, this was a quite brilliant overall performance.

Katie Creaven, in the role of Annie, gave a deeply emotional performance of the grieving process associated with experiencing the demise of a loved one through a chronic illness. Her love for her husband, John, was intense and moving, and her heartbreak at his passing was palpable. There was levity in her early, happier scenes, and I found myself wanting it to return more noticeably as the story progressed in act two, where the focus of the narrative becomes the memorial to, and the celebration of the life of, her husband. Therein lies the strength of a script that is crafted to raise us from the sadness of Act One to a more joyous celebration of life in Act Two. With a wonderful vocal quality, Katie infused all her numbers with drama and purpose.

There was a warmth and tenderness to the performance of Declan Kelly in the role of John, who, even facing the reality of his mortality, never lost his spirit, his sense of humour, nor his dignity. That he portrayed the character with not an ounce of self-pity was a testament to a beautifully thoughtful and serene understanding of the human condition. Truly an inspirational performance.

Heather Colohan, as Cora, had a great sense of fun and ribaldry combined with a credible sense of caution about activities that stepped outside her normal comfort zone. Her “Who Wants a Silent Night” was one of the fun musical highlights of the first half, vocally well-performed, and with a great sense of mischief. Her initial reluctance to pose naked was matched by her eventual willingness to give it a go. This was a very amusing characterisation.

Suzanne Garvey flaunted deliciously about the stage, giving an air of mystique and superiority to the character of Celia, with her “enhanced” physique! Of course, she’s really as false as her implants, and her warmth eventually shines through in a comically and well-realized characterisation. She made the most of “I’ve Had A Little Work Done”, and was hilarious in her teasing of Tommo.

A quite brilliantly aged Frieda McGrath, in the role of Jessie, used excellent comedic timing and delivery to establish the quaint and quirky character of an elegant, aging woman who’s not prepared to relinquish her right to be outrageous. This was a superbly played role.

In the character of Ruth, Yvonne Earls touchingly represents the awkward sadness of a woman who faces a loveless marriage by immersing herself in alternative activities, and then bursts forth in a delightfully comical drunken spree to release her inner feminism and to reject her no-good husband. Very nicely and sincerely played indeed, with a comical and pointed “My Russian Friend and I”.

Not to be outdone by the brazenness of her WI colleagues, Ailbhe Slevin made her own mark as Marie, the social climbing Chairwoman of the WI, as ludicrous as Hyacinth Bucket in her stuffiness, yet as vulnerable as all the other women, trying to cope with a wayward teenage daughter. This was a richly comedic caricature, brilliantly delivered.

As the wayward daughter, Jenny, Hannah Wright displayed the perfect amount of attitude to be obnoxious, yet extremely likeable. Her scenes with testosterone-fueled Danny and Tommo were extremely funny and natural, and in her few opportunities to shine vocally, she made the very most of them.

The aforementioned Danny and Tommo were given top-notch treatment by Eoin Mullins and Keith Hanley, respectively. They played the young, awkward, male virgins with great character and comedy, particularly good timing and an abundant sense of fun. Both were also vocally strong in the little they had to sing.

With great sincerity as a nurse in the Cancer ward, Patrick Byrne showed his strong dramatic qualities as Lawrence, and then progressed to the rank of highly accomplished comedian, as he was coaxed to become the photographer for the Calendar. A delightfully executed characterisation, and hilarious in his captivation with Celia’s boobs!

A talented trio of husbands provided good back-up to their ladies in the shape of Declan Finn as Rod, Norman Quinn as Colin and David Alexander as Denis, at their best in the comical opening of Act Two as they stood speechless, mouths gaping, in disbelief at what they had witnessed. Each played their role with individuality and assurance.

Muirne Hurley-Goode as Miss Wilson Tea, and Marie Therese Morahan as Miss Wilson Coffee, gave two highly amusing cameo performances throughout as the WI caterers, even happy to offer baps along with their refreshments on their final appearance! Very nicely played, girls.

Michelle Drysdale as Mrs Cravenshire and Lindsey Cant as guest speaker, Brenda Hulse, gave good support and very capably completed the principal line-up.

The chorus have few opportunities to make an impression in this show, but impress they did, with some beautiful and robust harmonies. They had great fun during “Who Wants A Silent Night”, and a group of them made the most of their brief appearance as air-hostesses. The show requires very little choreography, but Choreographer, Sarah Kenny, did enough to enhance the production and to keep the chorus occupied. They were also very tidy in their execution of the routines.

Musical Director, Shane Farrell, got everything right, from the tone, tempi and balance of his orchestra, to the vocal quality of his chorus and principals. The whole show was musically delightful.

Both technically and visually, everything was tidy, efficient and well-designed for this production. The set was simple and effective, the props were well sourced, the costumes were good and always appropriate. Make-up and hairstyles were good, especially the aging make-up for Jessie. The lighting was not flamboyant, but very mellow and thoughtful, creating atmosphere and ambiance without ever distracting from the drama. Sound quality was just about perfect. Stage management, in the hands of SM, Chontelle Kenny, was efficient and unobtrusive, except on a few occasions when masking of the wings was a tad ineffective.

This is my second time to see this show, and I’m delighted to note that on both occasions, Calendars of the cast were produced and sold to raise much needed funds for local cancer charities and local hospice groups. It is a truly beautiful way for us, as musical thespians, to give something back to society.

Calendar Girls is, in my estimation, a superb fusion of tragedy and comedy, dealing as it does with the sinister spectre of Cancer and the effect it has on not just a family, but a whole community. Beautifully written, with very real characters, an amazing story, and a very appealing musical score, it’s just one of those shows that really pulls a company together, and on this occasion, it lifted them to a great height. My most sincere thanks to all concerned in Bravo for a very emotional theatrical experience.

Peter Kennedy, Gilbert Adjudicator

Some photos kindly sent in by the society to accompany the review

Photography by Paul Kelly of Indigo Lighting


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