This play set a record for the Malvern Festival Theatre by becoming the first December show to sell out by August.
So the possibly over-worked description “phenomenon” is probably justified in this case. Tim Firth’s stage adaptation, with Juliette Towhidi, of his own 2003 screenplay is itself the latest phase of a phenomenon which began ten years ago when Women’s Institute members in Yorkshire took the unlikely decision to pose nude for a calendar.
Here we have a group of well-known actresses aged between 36 and 74, including such distinguished theatrical names as Patricia Hodge, Lynda Bellingham and Sian Phillips, baring their flesh. But despite some of the hype, voyeurs will be disappointed to discover that the nudity is actually handled with such extreme discretion as to be almost invisible.
It seems a very British story which manages to be slightly risqué within strict bounds, defined by such devices as strategically-placed iced buns. With the very successful film version followed by television programmes like How to Look Good Naked, it seems that quite a backlash is underway against pre-packaged notions of ideal female bodies. The Malvern audience was predominantly female and reflected the age-range of the protagonists.
Basically a rallying call for middle-aged female independence and bloody-mindedness, it is given emotional underpinning by the fact that the calendar was conceived as a means of fund-raising for cancer charity after the husband of one of the women died of leukaemia.
The dramatisation is breezy and efficient and the cast is committed. It’s probably not the best play seen at Malvern this year but it’s doubtful that any other has touched such a contemporary nerve.
Running time: Two hours, 25 minutes. Until Saturday (returns only).