I’m calling it: Calendar Girls is the weirdest play Lynda has ever tried to put on. Yes, I do remember the one when she wasn’t sure, right up until opening night, whether Jim would read in English or Latin (you’d think that as the director she’d have needed to know that). And I also recall 2008’s effort, Jack and the Beanstalk, in which Lynda played the rear-end of a cow. I’m sure you’ll have your own examples of the craziest village plays. But there are three key reasons why Calendar Girls is even more bizarre than its predecessors.
- Everyone in Ambridge knows the film inside out.
Whenever Lynda approaches someone for a part, the person knows who she is talking about. Even young’uns such as Emma, who are unlikely to have even seen the film on the grounds of implausible demographics, know all the characters’ names. It is JUST NOT POSSIBLE. For one thing, CG has not entered the public consciousness in this way. And secondly, even if it had, the names are not memorable. They are all names like Chris, Annie and Ruth. Names like characters on The Archers, really, and look how long it took us to remember them. I still call Jenny, Chris and David ‘Thingy.’ Calendar Girls is not the Rocky Horror Show. There are no Riff Raffs and Frank N Furters in CG, more’s the pity. (Imagines exciting new mash-up, rings agent, explains idea, agents pretends to lose signal and puts phone down.)
I have taken part in am-dram myself (luckily no video evidence exists), and this is the type of conversation which would take place between Lynda and me, were I to find myself unexpectedly on her casting couch.
Lynda: You’d be just perfect for Annie.
Me: Which one was she? Celia Imrie?
Lynda: No, she was the widow, the one who started the whole thing off. The Julie Walters character?
Me: [Vaguely, as can only recall Celia Imrie behind some buns] Oh yes. Well, I don’t know. Does she have to get her kit off?
Lynda: I believe so.
Me: [Looks down top and shudders] Nah, that’s all right. Are there are any other parts?
Lynda: How about Chris? That’s a good one.
Lynda: She’s Annie’s best friend.
Me: Who’s Annie again?
Lynda: Oh for heaven’s sake!
Me: Does Chris have to waddle around in the all together as well?
Lynda: [nods wearily]
Me: Are that any parts that don’t require, well, the exposure of parts?
Lynda: [Consults cast list]: Yes, there’s the aging Lady Cravenshire. Susan’s already turned it down.
Me: Who played Lady C in the film?
Lynda: No-one, I believe. [Sniffs.] She was a character in the stage play only.
Me: Wow, it’s even weirder in that case that everyone seems to know who she is, if she wasn’t even in the film.
Lynda: I’m going to have to hurry you, I do have other people to audition, you know. [Clearly a lie.]
Me: Oh, go on then. Long as I can keep my clobber on, it’ll be fine.
That’s the difference between real life and The Archers. In Ambridge, the conversations go like this:
Lynda: [Tactfully] I wonder if you would consider playing Annie.
Elizabeth: Let me think about it. [Knows without looking it up that Annie is the one whose husband died, though not by falling off a roof.]
Lynda: How about Lady Cravenshire?
Susan: But she’s ancient! [How does she know?!] Damn cheek! [Storms out.]
Lynda: [Humble pie] I can’t think of anyone better to play Chris.
Susan: Me neither! Thanks, Lynda. [Knows without looking it up that Chris is the main character.]
Susan: I’m going to be playing Chris.
Emma: Oh yes, isn’t she the best friend? [JUST BONKERS]
- No-one seems unduly worried about being in the nuddy.
In my own am-dram world it would be A MASSIVE BLOODY DEAL if we so much as mentioned a play that required the uncovering of skin. Let alone this play, which continually requires middle-aged ladies to be entirely el-buffo, their modesty protected by nothing more than a carefully-placed prop. A CAREFULLY PLACED PROP?! Who in am-dram is capable of that? In my experience the stage-manger will be three sheets to the wind from the moment the play is chosen to the moment he breaks up the set four months later. You’ll be lucky for any of your props to be even remotely in the right place. Let alone the perfect positioning of the teetering pile of buns, which is all that stands between you and your booty being up-front and centre on a thousand hideous Instagrams.
I was trusting that the prudish Susan would at least speak for us normal women, we who would as soon be naked in front of anyone (other than their jaded partners, and not necessarily them), as eat one of Christine Barford’s cheese scones, or buy a Fairbrother goose for Christmas, or snog Will Grundy. It’s just not happening. Susan was pleasingly shocked at first. But as soon as she heard that Elizabeth was in the play, she fell apart in a mass of contradictions that basically boiled down to: if the posh bird’s OK with getting her tits out, who am I to make a fuss?
Maybe none of them are worried because they know it’s only going to be seen on the radio? Oh god I am so confused.
- The performing rights are not currently available
Alerted by a couple of people on Facebook, I looked up the Samuel French website, which is where you obtain licences for plays. Even schools and tiny village hall am-dram groups are required to do this, as Lynda well knows. The page for Calendar Girls clearly states that ‘Performance rights for this title are currently withdrawn.’ I wondered if perhaps Lynda had uncovered an alternative method for legitimately staging this play. In the spirit of investigative journalism I phoned Samuel French, and a very nice lady confirmed that the rights are currently unavailable owing to a Calendar Girls musical being in development. I asked her if there was any way at all that an am-dram group could perform this play. For instance, by putting on a version of the film? Absolutely not, she replied.
It’s possible that those clever scriptwriters have known this all along, and this is where the storyline is going: at the eleventh hour Lynda will realise she doesn’t have a licence, and has to pull the show. But as the crowd (Eddie and a couple of extras) are baying for nakedness, the cast will quickly improvise a version of Oh! Calcutta! instead. No? In that case they are going to have to fudge it. But I can’t imagine Lynda putting on a play illegally – or doing anything illegally, come to that. I definitely won’t respect her as much as I do now. She may, of course, be willing to risk that. After all, she has done a lot of weird stuff in her time.