Fortune Theatre, Dunedin

10/11/2012 - 08/12/2012

Production Details


A group of extraordinary women, members of a very ordinary Yorkshire Women’s Institute, have plans to raise funds for charity: a calendar. They go “all out” in their fundraising efforts and expose more than they’d ever planned.

The news of the women’s charitable venture spreads like wildfire, and hordes of press soon descend on the village of Knapeley in the Yorkshire Dales. The calendar is a success, but friendships are put to the test under the strain of new-found fame.

Based on the true story of eleven WI members who posed nude for a calendar to raise money for a sofa. Calendar Girls opened at the Chichester Festival Theatre and has since become the fastest selling play in British theatre history.

Australian Director Shane Anthony returns to Dunedin (following his very successful production of Avenue Q at the Fortune in 2011) to direct the show: “I had a wonderful experience working with the Fortune Theatre last year on Avenue Q. I’m very excited to be able to return again to work with this team of incredibly talented and dedicated artists, and I can’t wait to share this heartwarming story.”

Artistic Director, Lara Macgregor says: “This show is a natural fit for the Christmas Season. It has little bit of everything (so to speak) for everybody. As the play is directly based on the movie, it has an immediate recognizable factor. I’m not sure if this is contributing to our preshow sales but tickets are flying out the door.” 

 “It’s marvellous theatre, guaranteed to make you laugh, cry and come out singing Jerusalem.” – Mail on Sunday 

“Dazzlingly funny, shamelessly sentimental and utterly captivating…the mingling of pathos and comedy here is simply unbeatable.” – Lloyd Evans, Spectator 


Saucy Readings / Thursday 1 November meet at 12.15pm in the Dunedin Public Library, ground floor. Reading will commence at 12.30pm followed by afternoon tea. This is a FREE event.

Opening Night / Saturday 10 November 7.30pm, Fortune Theatre.


Member’s Briefing / Sunday 11 November meet at the Fortune bar at 3.00pm and join Fortune Theatre Artistic Director Lara Macgregor for a lively informal chat about the making of Calendar Girls

Forum / Tuesday 13 November Q & A session with the cast and crew post 6.00pm show.

Fortune Sociable Club / Wednesday 12 November meet in the bar at 6.30pm and meet like-minded individuals and get connected.

Ladies Night / Thursday 22 November grab your girlfriends for the most talked about show of the year. Sample the new Brancott Estate Flight Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris, receive a goodie bag and be in to win fabulous spot prizes on the night. Doors open 7.00pm; show starts 7.30pm, $45 a ticket, bookings essential.

Audio Described Performance / Sunday 2 December an audio described performance offered in collaboration with Experience Access for visually impaired patrons and friends. Audio Described Touch Tour at 2.30pm before 4pm matinee. Bookings essential.

Production Dates:  10 November – 8 December 2012
Fortune Theatre, 231 Stuart Street, Dunedin 9016
Tuesday, 6pm / Wednesday – Saturday, 7.30pm / Sunday, 4pm
(no show Monday)

Tickets:  Gala (first 5 shows) $32, Adults $40, Senior Citizens $32, Members $30, Tertiary Students $20, High School Students $15, Group discount (10 +) $32
Ladies Night $45 

Bookings:  Fortune Theatre, 231 Stuart Street, Dunedin; (03) 477 8323  

Donna Akersten:  Chris 
Michele Amas:  Annie 
Clare Adams:  Cora 
Lisa Warrington:  Jessie 
Hilary Halba:  Ruth 
Donogh Rees:  Celia 
Hilary Norris:  Marie 
Peter Hayden:  John
Tim Bartlett:  Rod 
Lynda Milligan:  Brenda / Lady Cravenshire / Elaine
Danny Still:  Lawrence / Liam 

Set Designer:  Peter King 
Costume Designer:  Maryanne Wright-Smyth
Lighting Designer:  Stephen Kilroy
Sound Designer:  Lindsay Gordon

Stage Manager:  Rebecca Tapp
Assistant Stage Manager / Properties Master:  Jennifer Aitken
Technical Coordinator:  Lindsay Gordon
Set Build:  Peter King, Matt Best
Lighting and Sound Operator:  Siddharth Makkuni Puthiyavalappil
Rigging:  Lisa van den Berg, Brett Lupton
Artwork Design:  Firebrand
Programme Design:  Katy Miller, Firebrand, Larissa Dyke, Marketing & Communication Manager, Fortune Theatre
Video Trailer:  Filmed and Edited by Miguel Nitis
Artistic Direction:  Lara Macgregor
Photographer:  Alan Dove Photography 

Warm-hearted comedy balances humour and pathos

Review by Brenda Harwood 16th Nov 2012

Laughter and tears flowed for audience members during Saturday’s opening night of delightful pre-Christmas show Calendar Girls at the Fortune Theatre.

Tim Firth’s stage adaptation of the well-known movie of the same name, about a group of Yorkshire women going nude for a charity calendar, was expertly handled by a vastly experienced team, under the direction of Shane Anthony. The result was a relaxed, natural-feeling portrayal of the highs and lows of life and friendship, from outright hilarity to heartbreak.

A nicely-crafted ensemble piece, made stronger by the combined talents of Donna Akersten, Michele Amas, Clare Adams, Lisa Warrington, Hilary Halba, Donogh Rees, Hilary Norris, Peter Hayden, Timothy Bartlett, Lynda Milligan and Danny Still, this production of Calendar Girls was a joy to witness.

The cast’s expert handling of the hysterically funny nude photography scene had the audience roaring with delight.

Set designer Peter King’s depiction of the women’s institute hall and a Yorkshire hillside provided a nice backdrop to the play’s busy action. Wardrobe design by Maryanne Wright-Smyth added its own nuance to the characters, as did the expert lighting design by Stephen Kilroy and sound design by Lindsay Gordon.

In the hands of this team, Calendar Girls achieves a nice balance between humour and pathos, giving the audience a night of warm-hearted comedy with a great deal of heart.

This is perfect pre-Christmas fare. Highly recommended.
Calendar Girls continues at the Fortune Theatre until December 8.


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Fine entertainment from expert cast

Review by Barbara Frame 12th Nov 2012

After John’s death from leukemia, widow Annie and her friends at the Women’s Institute decide to use their annual calendar to raise funds for a memorial sofa at the local hospital. But pictures of local bridges are never going to lead to huge sales, so how about nude photographs in, of course, the best possible taste? 

Inspired by a real project in Yorkshire, the stage and film versions of Tim Firth’s Calendar Girls have been enormously successful and have raised huge sums for cancer research. 

The play is a conventional, predictable comedy and its ideas seem dated. The theme of middle-aged women looking beyond the traditional activities of knitting, baking and making jam comes straight out of the 1970s, and it’s hard to imagine any modern women’s group clinging to such limited horizons. But sensitivity, good humour and the strength of the women’s courage and friendship go a long way towards overcoming this defect.

Directed by Shane Anthony, the Fortune’s production is fine entertainment. The 11-strong, highly experienced cast works together brilliantly, and I particularly enjoyed Danny Still’s cameo as Lawrence, the clever and initially terrified photographer, in the photo-shoot scene.

Peter King’s village hall set reminded me of the set for the recent production of The Middlemarch Singles Ball at the Globe (village halls everywhere have much in common) but is more detailed, with vinyl-covered chairs, the end of a badminton court, a serving hatch, old upright piano, fire extinguisher and other recognisable paraphernalia. Maryanne Wright-Smythe’s costumes reflect their characters’ social status and personalities.

Funny, unashamedly sentimental and a guaranteed crowd-pleaser, Calendar Girls promises to be a big hit for end-of-year outings and celebrations. And the programme contains an unexpected bonus: a lift-out 2013 calendar that I’m looking forward to hanging on the kitchen wall. 


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Finely nuanced relationships

Review by Terry MacTavish 12th Nov 2012

For sheer entertainment, the Fortune could not have made a better choice for the Christmas season. Even the most curmudgeonly will find it hard to resist the appeal of a production so charming and – well, I’m trying to find a term less clichéd than heart-warming, but that does sum it up.

Shane Anthony, who also directed last year’s brilliant Avenue Q, has been blessed with a great cast of seasoned professionals who are clearly enjoying themselves and each other.

The premise and script are amusing and the laughter is continuous, but it is as a celebration of friendship and the gutsy courage of ordinary women that Calendar Girls reaches a deeper level. Warmth and humanity overflow the stage, embracing the patrons and sending them home in a happy glow.

Most people probably know that this play is based on a true story: a Yorkshire Women’s Institute group pose nude for a calendar shoot to raise money to fight cancer, following the death of the husband of one of their number. Doubtless because they are not youthful glamour-pusses but real women, it is a sensational success.

Calendar Girls has some aspects in common with the Fortune’s powerful production of The Pitmen Painters, in which a team of fine male actors demonstrated similarly impressive ensemble work. Both plays are set in rural northern England, and follow the same narrative pattern: the first half takes the group to triumph while the second half deals with the consequences of success.

There’s a curious buzz in an audience about to see a play that features nudity. The awareness that we are going to know these actors so much more intimately engenders a sort of complicity, a slightly guilty excitement. But this is no strip club, and the atmosphere is supportive, almost protective.

My guest, herself actually President of a local Women’s Institute, is chuckling over the authenticity of the set, a church hall relieved from bleakness by its polished wooden floor. “Yes, there’s always a lectern, stacks of chairs, a rickety table, a portrait of the Queen, lots of things covered with cloths because they belong to some other outfit, and one old heater high up where it never heats anything.”

The characters too, she recognises at once. “There’s always a bossy boots and a pianist, one a bit cynical, and one prude who won’t come to the pub afterwards.” Most authentic of all, she whispers, as they blunder their way with laughter and teasing through some dubious Tai Chi moves, is that the women are having such fun. “In friendship’s circle bright,” as the Institute ode puts it.  So that’s the point of these close-knit women’s communities? Fun and friendship?  “No,” she says firmly, “we do good deeds.”  I will be surprised if this play doesn’t inspire lots of new recruits.

The production values are of typically high Fortune* standard, beginning with King and Best’s credible church hall, so beautifully constructed that even the doors operate without that ominous shaking of the flats. It serves surprisingly well for all indoor scenes. The outdoors set is less convincing, though having spent a year tramping the glorious Yorkshire Dales I can’t see how you could possibly replicate their majesty on stage.

Maryanne Wright-Smyth has produced costumes that neatly reflect the character of each woman, including amusingly appropriate dressing gowns (as she did for The Motor Camp) and culminating in glamorous black evening wear. 

For the calendar photo shoot, Jen Aitken has come up with an amazing and ingenious array of props to protect the modesty of actors who, to the delighted approval of the audience, clearly are totally nude.

The splendid and courageous female actors are valiantly supported by three men, including an engaging Timothy Bartlett who represents the mostly bemused husbands, and the very versatile Danny Still who steals scenes as both the innocent young photographer and the obnoxious ad-man.

Dunedin’s beloved Peter Hayden, his head bravely shaved, plays John, who claims women are more beautiful with age, and whose death inspires the calendar. Hayden endows John with such sweetness that we believe the women would overcome their initial reluctance in their desire to honour his memory.

But it is the women’s story, and the eight fine actors not only flesh out their own characters, avoiding the temptation to ridicule the women they are based on, but also develop finely nuanced relationships within the group.

The driving force is Chris (yes, the Helen Mirren part in the film which I am mentioning only this once!), the sort of woman, my friend informs me, who is in the WI because it’s the only social life available. Her relentless perkiness could have become irritating, but Donna Akersten succeeds in winning our affection, with just enough vulnerability beneath the bravado.

Hilary Halba makes a memorable Ruth, hilarious as the mousy goody-good in tragic costumes (those rabbit ears!), blossoming into a stunning pin-up. Lisa Warrington finds the humour in unconventional school teacher Jessie, delivering a wonderfully crisp put-down of the ex-pupil who is horrified to find himself photographing her naked.

Clare Adams’ musical talents prove an asset to her role as cheerful Cora, and Donogh Rees gives Celia a smile so deliciously alluring it eclipses even the famous ‘bigger buns’ line. Hilary Norris is in her element as the WI’s capable but bossy organiser, while Lynda Milligan is very skilful in three funny contrasting cameos. 

Most poignant of all is Michele Amas as the newly widowed Annie. She is so touching and true in her interpretation of a woman bravely concealing her own pain, to give smiling support to her dying husband, that almost palpable waves of sympathy emanate from the audience. My friend wants to hug her. 

But the classic disrobing scene is what we have been waiting for, and it does not disappoint, each delightfully posed ‘month’ winning resounding applause as well as laughter. The gender politics of nudity are fascinating: exploitation or empowerment? 

My stern great-aunt Ada, condemning striptease, appalled my teenage self by adding, “I need only take off my clothes and look at myself in the mirror. I’ve got all the bits they have!” Who’d have thought I’d ever come to realise that every body is beautiful. 

Years ago non-NZ actors touring Steaming complained about the workouts and dieting required to keep them looking good on stage, completely missing the point that the play demanded normal every-shape women. This cast knows better.

Yet every one of these mature ladies succeeds in looking absolutely gorgeous in the famous nude poses. The programme supplies a cute 2013 calendar with handy home hints and lively pictures of the production, but I for one would have been more than happy to buy the actual shots as inspiration for the coming year.

After all, as playwright Firth says, “to perform the play requires the exact bravery and group spirit as did the original endeavour.”  Or as my friend the president would say, in the WI’s own words, “Teach us to put into action our better impulses, straightforward and unafraid.”  Just what this proud production exemplifies!

*One of the key members of the excellent Fortune team, General Manager Jeremy Smith, is departing to become manager of historic Olveston, and his place will be taken by erstwhile Otago Festival organiser, Nicholas McBryde. I would like to pass on best wishes to both. The theatre world is grateful! 


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