The Court Theatre, Bernard Street, Addington, Christchurch

17/03/2012 - 28/04/2012

Production Details

Revealing Comedy at The Court Theatre  

One of the bare necessities of life is a good laugh – and CALENDAR GIRLS, the latest production at The Court Theatre, delivers in spades.

CALENDAR GIRLS is inspired by the true story of a Yorkshire branch of the Women’s Institute who decide to use their annual calendar as a fundraising project to raise money for cancer by posing nude. The response – both to the calendar and the women themselves – was incredible: to date, the original “calendar girls” have raised over £2 million for Leukaemia Research.

Their story was made into a hit film in 2003, and adapted for the stage in 2008, where it enjoyed international acclaim and is the most successful play to ever tour the UK- earning more than the film.

“This is a beautiful play,” says director Alison Quigan, “at its heart is the friendship of women who are there to support each other and give each other strength to cope with all the things life throws at them.”

The cast of CALENDAR GIRLS consists of Annie Whittle, Janice Gray, Jude Gibson, Avril Thresh and Michael Keir Morrissey; Ali Harper and Juliet Reynolds-Midgley (recently on The Court’s stage in the popular season of SIDE BY SIDE BY SONDHEIM); newcomers to The Court Carl Dixon, Amanda Tollemache and Lyndee-Jane Rutherford; and recently appointed Associate of The Court Geoffrey Heath.

Quigan, who appeared on-stage in an Auckland production of the play, is enjoying working with the cast. “Each group of people bring a different energy and style.”

While CALENDAR GIRLS is renowned for its “revealing” photo shoot scene, Quigan and the cast have coordinated a tightly-choreographed sequence using 391 strategically-placed props to ensure only the actresses’ smiles will be in full view.

Quigan feels the enduring appeal and success of CALENDAR GIRLS is due to more than simple titillation. “It’s how these women expose their hearts that make this such an inspirational – and entertaining – comedy.”

Performances: 17 March – 28 April 2012.

Show times:  6:30pm Mon/Thu, 7:30 Tue/Wed/Fri/Sat (2pm matinees Sat 24 March, Sat 14 April)

Venue:  The Court Theatre,Bernard St, Addington

Tickets:  Adults $48 | Senior $41 | Groups (10+) $39 | Student $29 | Child $19

Bookings:  03 963 0870 or  

Cast: Carl Dixon, Jude Gibson, Janice Gray, Ali Harper, Geoffrey Heath, Michael Keir Morrissey, Juliet Reynolds-Midgely, Lyndee-Jane Rutherford, Avril Thresh, Amanda Tollemache and Annie Whittle.  

2hrs 20mins, incl. interval

Hilarity attends spirited cast

Review by Lindsay Clark 18th Mar 2012

If warm and spontaneous applause on opening night are anything to go by, The Court has found another winner in this adaptation of the screenplay, itself based on a gutsy real-life fundraising project by the Yorkshire Women’s Institute, for the care of leukaemia sufferers. The women of rural Yorkshire bare all for a nude ‘girlie’ calendar. The roots of the play then lie in real life and that is ultimately its appeal.

Although the project arises from sad and truthful circumstances, and there are moments when the plot could easily descend into slushy sentiment, Alison Quigan and her team are set on illuminating the humour and determined optimism of the ‘girls’, whose range of age and occupation guarantees plenty of character interest and some very funny situations.

This is a slow burner though. At first, the group of six women, larking their way through Tai Chi, fending off the officious dictates of their president, seem awkward and their interactions and accents often contrived. The intention to make us laugh feels heavy handed. As the story proper develops, personalities do emerge and momentum with it. 

The catalyst is Michael Keir Morrissey’s convincing John, husband of Annie, one of the group’s stalwarts and loved by all. He is diagnosed with the dread disease, and gradually succumbs to it, but not before, in his sturdy dalesman way, he directs the women to plant sunflowers and take wisdom from the way these happy emblems turn always to the light.

Among its welter of ‘womanly’ activities, the group is set to plan its annual calendar, but with a real goal – to establish a memorial to mark John’s death – they find themselves embarking on the project which not only funds a whole hospital wing but which tests their personal courage and commitment to each other.

Just before interval comes the shooting scene, providing a succession of hilarious moments and setting off a round of delighted applause. Since nudity on stage or off is not as startling as it might once have been, it is very important that we believe in the real courage each woman has to find, and in the strength they draw from each other.

Where to next? The build for the second half comes a little slowly as tensions created by success escalate, especially between chief organiser and media natural Chris (played with wonderful zing by Jude Gibson) and her best friend, the bereaved wife Annie (a role Annie Whittle fleshes out with skill and sensitivity).

As a subplot, the group’s naughty stand against traditional Women’s Institute doings and their bulldozer snob of a president teeters along until all is transcended in the final wonderful scene. The group gathers on the windy upland where their sunflowers are at last in bloom and where their ragged Tai Chi efforts have become a serene and harmonious ritual.

At times uneven then, in its appeal and effect, the play’s lasting images are a strong expression of the beauty of simple things and the wisdom of recognising them. In full voice the women’s glorious rendering of Jerusalem echoes their determination to stay on course for the things that matter.

No small part of the overall success of the play lies with the production team. David Thornley’s composite set, itself simple and uncluttered, accommodates wide ranging action and circumstance fluently. Importantly it allows for the lighting and sound, both designed by Joe Hayes, to underscore mood and transform situation with his accustomed skill.

Annie Graham’s splendid costumes are, of course, an important part of establishing the persons and enhancing their comedy. She also has the challenge of creating appropriate gear for several doubling roles and numerous costume changes. All is provided effectively, as is the daunting number of properties which Tim Bain contributes.

The opening night applause then was partly in recognition of a generously styled production in circumstances which are recognised as very different from those in The Court’s old home in the Arts Centre, where all the day to day makings of theatre are still out of reach.

Beyond that, vigorous approval of the spirited cast and their attendant hilarity was appropriate and suggests that a bumper season will follow.  


Jane Hopkins April 6th, 2012

I agree with the review - parts were fun and I loved Jude Gibson's performance. The play really turned on her stage presence and comic timing. Annie Whittle and trouper Ali Harper were also stand outs in what I would call one of the Court's typical bums on seats plays. Christchurch is a discerning theatre audience though - and it was a bit patchy. As a native of Yorkshire the accents were a little grating - with the occasional lapse into a Scottish lilt from the branch WI chairwoman. The issue for me, and what practically ruined the play, was the embarrassing overacting from the 'character actor' who played three different roles. Her performance was amateurish, and not what Ive come to expect from Court professionals. OK for pantomime - but out of keeping with the rest of the play. Tone it down luv - we get that you're meant to be the funny one - just dont hit us over the head with it because it doesn't work.

Erica Wilkinson March 22nd, 2012

The cast need to be applauded for their believability which they aren't in this. This review makes them seem forced at the start, but seeing this on Monday night there was no sign of any 'forced' camaraderie between the very real characters we were confronted with on stage right from the Tai Chi scene at the opening. Ali Harper was illuminating as always, and Janice Gray had us clutching our sides in laughter. The best and most enjoyable play I have seen at the Court and thank GOD it's not another Roger Hall.

James Levy March 18th, 2012

What a strange review... I'll go and see it though it's a ladies play (said in a Little Britain voice).

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