As the old saying goes, you wait ages for a bust to come along and then two come along at once. (Oh, shut up, you bloody loved it.)
Yes, Tim Firth’s Calendar Girls is the latest production to capture the am-dram imagination here in the Borders. For the next eighteen months, the amateur performing rights for the play are available as a fundraising exercise for Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research.
Two community theatre companies – the Duns Players and Opening Night Productions in association with The Maltings Theatre – are staging shows in September and November respectively, having pounced on the opportunity to perform something with a difference in the same way an ageing and jaded porn star leaps upon a dwarf.
Because the usual fare of an am-dram actor is a Sisyphean diet of bland; a porridgy gloop of same-oldiness garnished on special occasions with ‘meh’. If you’re farce intolerant or suffer explosive bowel movements at the mere mention of Rodgers and Hammerstein, then a typical am-dram menu will send you into anaphylaxis from which you may never recover.
Opening Night Productions, however, did take a successful punt on their 2010 production of Rent. And the Duns Players have tried to rustle up something new in recent years, delighting local audiences with their take on Fawlty Towers. Yes, a farce by any other name, but also a shrewdly populist choice that put bums on seats and money in the bank – a situation in the make-do-and-mend world of am-dram finance as likely as Nick Clegg making a promise and not having to stick a needle in his eye a week later. The Players also made a very decent fist of Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads but this was a risky departure, smacking as it did of elitism.
You see, in the world of community theatre only a handful of actors are actually capable of doing justice to a role that doesn’t involve slipping on a banana skin or having clothes fall off in an amusing if unlikely fashion. Any aspiration, any sigh of ambitious longing in the direction of Chekov from the gifted few, is derided by the here-for-the-beer majority who rightly deduce they’ll have nothing to do but serve tea and call raffle tickets in the interval.
Amateur dramatics is the only country where mob rule is written into the constitution. The USSR would still be intact if only it had adopted the practice of huddling together twice a week in a church hall smelling of damp. And the reason mob rule works is because the cast is the audience, both are drawn from the same small community. What the majority of the cast enjoy performing is what the majority of the audience will inevitably enjoy watching.Think Borg and the hive mind.
So, members of the bourgeoisie, hide those Millers in the attic and let the proles have it away with Ben Travers. In cash-strapped times and in an area of traditionally low wages and rising unemployment, no-one wants to see you flashing your big shiny Pinters around.
Which brings us back to the problem in hand. With a finite number of farces at its disposal, what can a hungry amateur society present that will satisfy both cast and audience?
Calendar Girls is essentially boobs with an affecting back story.
Be honest. Can you remember anything from the film version other than boobs and Celia Imrie needing considerably bigger buns? Exactly.
Boobs meet the brief two-fold:
- Full houses guaranteed. An am-dram audience buys tickets for one reason only – the potential of seeing people they know look stupid in public. Hard, yes; ugly, yes, but there you have it. Calendar Girls comes with a built-in bonus feature of possible nip slip. Danger is hard to come by in the provinces and an areola going AWOL on stage is the closest any of us is going to get to Afghanistan.
- The cast will be able to rise up and meet a challenge not often faced in am-dram circles. Not only will they have to step out of their comfort zone, but their clothes too. But let’s be careful here. Let’s not get bogged down by the ‘brave’ cliché in describing what these ladies will do. No. Rather, consider it an act of quiet nobility in allowing their breasts, whether pert or lightly fragranced with the scent of perimenopause, to warm under the stage lights for Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research.
What pleases NOT BAd most about these two productions is their timing. There’s the latest move to ban Page 3, a breast cancer awareness campaign falling foul of the 9pm watershed, and all that fuss and bother over K-Middy’s diddies. It’s as if the country is burning up with a mammary-inspired Zeitgeist. We feel confident that Calendar Girls is part of a larger, hidden picture, whereby an invisible entity, in all likelihood carrying a clipboard, is building in contingency plans should breasts in full public view drop below some cosmically critical level.
With this in mind, it makes sense to go and see this pair.
Calendar Girls, a warm, witty, feel-good play about friendship and working for the greater good. Oh, and boobs:
The Duns Players, 27th–29th September, 7.00pm, Duns Volunteer Hall, Duns. Tickets £7.50 (£6 concessions), available from No. 18 The Square, The Black Bull, and Nairns Newsagents, Duns.
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