Few people can be unfamiliar with the heart-warming story of the ladies of Rylestone WI whose famous charity calendar became a world-wide best-seller, attracting global coverage and raising over £3million so far for Leukaemia and Lymphoma research.
Tim Firth’s play, adapted from his film script, has become the most successful ever to tour the UK, and, unusually, was released for amateur performances for 18 months from last August.
Appropriately the first of these took place in Grassington, but knowing the individual skills and versatility of the ladies (and men!) of PBDS this production was eagerly awaited, with all performances quickly sold out.
The result? - a splendid evening of theatre.
The very particular sense of place was cleverly established before the opening scene and throughout by back projections of splendid, mainly Nidderdale, scenes (photography and filming by Chris Iredale).
We were swiftly reminded of one of the great strengths of this company – good ensemble acting – in the ‘tai chi’ scene.
Tim Firth has a good ear for revealing the contrasting details of female dialogue and portrays a wide diversity of characters while maintaining the narrative drive - ‘meat and drink’ of course to the ladies performing here.
Jo Jefferson as Chris exudes confidence and sharp wit – the members’ increasing disillusion with the subjects of talks for their meetings is well portrayed.
Cora, a troubled single mother with issues is deftly painted by Carol Bailey, and her ‘happy ending’ story develops nicely.
Ruth Dodsworth, fresh from her triumph at the Nidderdale Drama Festival, shows us her versatility in a very different role – ‘comedy gold’ when she mentions a Harley Davidson!
A notable character portrayal too from Jenny Bellamy as a disillusioned retired teacher initially adamant that she will not do the calendar.
Likewise in opposition is repressed wife Ruth, with Heather Appleton reminding us of her flair for physical comedy, but eventually achieving liberation from a cheating husband.
The gold medal for versatility goes to Debbie Forsyth who takes on 3 roles with panache and wit.
At the centre of course is soon-to-be-bereaved Annie, a sensitive portrayal by Joyce Liggins, as is the subtle and detailed performance by Peter Buller as the fatally ill John.
Linda Harvey is convincing and comically appealling as Marie travels the mental journey from strict disapproval to smiling solidarity.
Excellent male support as well from Jerry Harvey, Tom Barber as a bemused photographer, and Keith Burton.
As almost always with PBDS, pace and timing are excellent; Sue Hickson’s skilful direction is evident in the performances she draws from the cast and the dramatic variety and effortless changes of mood – for example, the movingly presented ‘sunflower scene’ and the uninhibited joie de vivre of the film shoot.
The scenes were supported by superbly atmospheric lighting changes and soundtrack.
Surprisingly for a play centred around nudity, each character had numerous costume changes; these were handled with her usual flair and panache by Christine Ward.
In her programme notes the director comments on the difficulties of putting on this play, but the hearty applause and smiling faces emerging from a full house indicated another ‘solid gold’ production at The Playhouse.