There were breasts and bottoms, and buns and bouquets. But the Theatrecraft production of Calendar Girls is much more than a titillating tale. It's a celebration of friendship, of love, of women and what they can achieve. It's a story of human tragedy and triumph, about class and confidence. And it's a brilliant night out. I laughed, I cried, and I loved every minute of it.
There were glitches, from forgotten lines to scenery malfunctions but, just like the real calendar girls, the cast refused to let it get in the way of their stunning show.
Jane Danes was formidable as Chris, the calendar's champion who tastes stardom and is tempted to capitalise on it. A drama teacher, her performance should be a must-see for all her students, and provided a masterclass in characterisation.
Kimberley Maton went from being the fairy in Theatrecraft's pantomime to trophy wife Celia in this, and she embraced the role. And the buns...
Jenny Koukoulis is well-known as a friendly face, either at the former Visitor Information Centre or Whitstable Improvement Trust, but she was almost unrecognisable as snooty Marie, the WI chief who is desperate to climb the social ladder.
Sue Bailey is no stranger to baring all on stage, according to her bio, and I could have cheered when she shrugged off her downtrodden image in the second act for the showdown with her husband's lover. She was played by irrepressible hairdresser Claire Barton, who also had a hand in some of the cast’s hairstyles and had one of the best Yorkshire accents of all the cast.
The supporting actors did exactly what they should; allowing the principals to shine and helping the action along, and I loved Christine Liggins as Lady Cravenshire.
But the brightest star was Andrea Oliver, who has previously managed to hide her light in the chorus or in smaller parts. As widow Annie, whose husband John (played so poignantly by Nik Waller) inspires the fundraising calendar, she really touched my heart. The tenderness between them was so real that it was impossible not to be moved as she faced the reality of his illness, and struggled with her grief and the suffering of others in the same situation. It was the perfect reminder that the play was based on a true story, and that thousands of families lose loved ones every year to all types of cancer.
There were collections for Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research after the show and I bet most pockets were emptied of coins and notes before the audience left Whitstable’s Playhouse Theatre.
IMPECCABLE, HILARIOUS AND IMPLAUSIBLE
The set of this side-splitting farce was a suitably middle-income living room, skilfully designed to house the action's many entanglements and the pace of the performance was impeccable.
Debi Lovell directed the play without having to consider any need for characterisation - plausibility doesn't encumber the plot.
Jean (Tracey Westell) is unimpressed when her husband Henry (Chris Perkins) arrives home on his birthday with a briefcase full of stolen money, neither is she particularly distressed when he decides to take their dinner-party guest Betty (Heather Kemp) abroad with the swag instead of his wife. Vic, Betty's husband (Stuart Rogers) is equally content to remain behind with Jean.
Of the two policemen in the cast, DS Davenport (Nick Easton) is an affable rogue, while Slater (Tim Baker) does exhibit a degree of confused morality. Westell played the fully inebriated Jean beautifully.
Baker made the baffled but sympathetic Slater finally lose his cool after being kept waiting for a promised cup of tea.
Tim Liggins as Bill the cabbie was beningly shrewd and generously amoral when he finally retrieved the suitcase.
Nick Glykeriou's brief role gave the drama its only straightforward villain, though why the programme described the fast-shooting, blood-stained hitman as a 'passer-by' is unaccountable.
It was an evening of delightful hilarity, but not one to generate much moral or literary discussion in the audience.
POLICEMAN Chris Perkins' bosses may not be too impressed with his performance as mild-mannered accountant Henry Perkins in Theatrecraft's fast-paced production of the Ray Cooney farce Funny Money.
In the show, Perkins accidentally picks up the wrong briefcase on the Underground on his birthday and ends up with £735,000 of ill-gotten gains?
In the process, he bribes bent copper Det Sgt Davenport (nicely played by Nick Easton) who accuses him, wrongly, of soliciting for men in a pub.
Perkins also came a cropper when another detective (Slater, played by Tim Baker who was so laid back he was virtually horizontal) turned up at his door believing our Henry had been cruelly done to death by villains hunting for the missing money.
But the rest of the audience found the bug-eyed Perkins' performance top rate.
Tracey Westwell played Perkins' stunned wife Jean with aplomb as he hatched a plot to flee to Barcelona while she slowly became more pickled with drink.
For a time he flirted with the prospect of swapping her with his best friend's wife Betty (played by Perkins' real-life wife, head teacher Heather Kemp) to add a little sexual frisson.
Betty's perplexed husband Vic was well played by Stuart Rogers, another member of Her Majesty's constabulary.
Nick Glykeriou made a brief but show-stopping appearance as a rather nasty armed underworld hood (there was a health warning about gunfire in the foyer) but the secret star of the show was set-builder Tim Liggins who was allowed on stage to give a hoot-filled performance of belligerent cabbie Bill.
The play, directed by Rubber Biscuit singer Debi Lovell, is Theatrecraft's entry in the Kent Drama Festival.
Drawing room comedies and kitchen sink dramas are not finished quite yet!!
Theatrecraft Herne Bay's 'Funny Money' at The Playhouse Whitstable, a farce from the master Ray Cooney known for 'Run For Your Wife' which ran seemingly forever in London's West End. It sounds a stupid title and a plot that looks too contrived, but on stage it works beautifully. Good timing by the cast is a must and boy did this cast have that. As in most Cooney farces it deals with mistaken identities, and in this version it's a briefcase of multiple mistaken identities in a plot so complex I wondered how it would work out. But this company of excellent actors, and a guiding hand on the directing, it galloped along at a cracking pace.
Office worker, Henry Perkins, pick up the wrong briefcase and inside he finds £700,000 and some odd. Instead of handing in to the police, he takes it home thinking to take wife Jean on a trip to the airport, suspecting that its a crook that has laundered the money and wont be reporting it. His wife, Jean, has been preparing a birthday dinner for Henry and is not pleased to drop everything and head for Barcelona as friends Vic and Betty are due to arrive. Henry orders a taxi, and then things go dreadfully wrong!
Finding the cash, Henry visits a pub toilet several times to count his find. Here he is watched by a detective. Detective Davenport arrives at the home to accuse Henry of soliciting and turns out to be on for a bit of bribery. The plot thickens when Detective Slater turns up to report Henry's death to his wife - a body has been found in the Thames, tied up, shot and clutching Henry's briefcase - and needs the body identified at the morgue. Arriving on the scene are a frustrated taxi driver Ben, or was it Bill, and the two friends, while Henry get more inventive about who he is and who everyone else is. An Australian connection is dreamed up and characters find themselves assumed names.
People were flying everywhere - the entire action takes places in a living room with three doors - and everybody starts forgetting who they are meant to be, doors opening, bells ringing, phones ringing, all perfectly on time in a superb professional set so heavily propped you felt as if you were living with them.....perfect, absolutely perfect......well done to all those involved in getting this set together. While all this goes on, an unknown person - thought to be Mr. Nasty, the owner of the briefcase, keeps calling and asking about a 'brefcurse' as they await the imminent arrival of a Mr. Big.
Chris Perkins plays Henry to perfection with never a wrong move. He keeps his character truthful, his body language just right and delivers dialogue with just the right sort of confidence. Tracey Westell looks as if she is having a ball as the anguished wife Jean, who hits the whiskey and brandy during the events turning from sober missus to a falling about mess. Good comic timing used to the full here - she knows how to act drunk with full comic effect. Tim Liggins' performance as the taxi driver was slick and he kept it up, popping in and out of the plot to collect his fares only to find his passengers changing all the time. Stuart Rogers and Heather Kemp play it fairly straight as Vic and Betty and get good laughs as a result. Nick Easton is a scrood and deviating Davenport and Tim Baker a dominating Slater. A very dramatic Nick Glykeriou makes a late but lasting performance as Mr. Big. It all ends in mayhem and the briefcase is in the wrong hands from time to time.....I did wonder how all managed to learn who was who and remember all their titles as I couldn't keep up!!
Director Debi Lovell took her superb cast and knowing just where the comic emphasis should lie, brought it forward, and with a very workable and useful set (even the doors made the lovely sound of sturdiness). With good lighting and props it is difficult to fault this farce, it could not be better played....and not a rude word anywhere!
Thank you Sylvia Blogg for not being able to attend and letting me go to review Theatrecraft's 'Funny Money', it certainly was a funny and entertaining evening.
GORDON HARRIS - DISTRICT 5 NODA
'If you thought Aladdin was just about a boy from the Orient and a magical lamp, you clearly haven't seen Theatrecraft's production.
The Bay-based am-dram group managed to pack the Strictly Come Dancing judges, songs by Scouting for Girls and the Boo Radleys and even an alien into their fun-filled show.
Of course, there were all the usual panto favourites as well, from a good dose of booing to inspired jokes with local references, and some impossibly cute child dancers, courtesy of the Hasland School of Dance and Performing Arts.
The casting was inspired - although Kelli Cullen's portrayal of Aladdin as an Essex geezer took some getting used to and a half-naked Chris Ifill as the Genie of the Lamp provided a real treat for the female members of the audience.
There was eye candy for the boys too with the beautiful Princess Jasmine (Rachel Doyle), who appeared in a range of Middle Eastern-inspired costumes that were almost as impressive as her vocal range and command of the stage.
What Rachel may have lacked in confidence, Kelli made up for and she seemed totally at home, despite the disappointing number of people who braved the snow to watch the show.
Nick Glykeriou as Wishee Washee struggled to remember a few of his lines and seemed a bit overawed by the number of empty seats at first but bravely overcame his nerves and came into his own in the second half.
Stuart Rogers made a suprisingly good Dame and Mark Edwards won the small audience over - or terrified them into submission - with his portrayal of the evil Abanazar.
There was some impressive choreography by Debbie Fulks and Bella Kennett, although not all the cast could manage to sing and dance at the same time, and the set was magnificently versatile, with a seemingly effortless transformation from a royal palace to Widow Twankey's laundry.
The combination of the fast-paced action, feel-good songs and plenty of audience participation was the perfect antidote to winter woes and the production was an excellent example of what panto at its best can be.
Oh yes it was!'
HERNE BAY TIMES
‘THEATRECRAFT raided Baron Hardup's kitchen and found a little saucepot to play Cinderella. Think Dancing On Ice's Holly Willoughby in rags and you have nurse and mum-of-three Kelli Cullen. She succeeded in the almost impossible by playing the lead with attitude yet kept the audience entirely on her side during Friday's opening night at the Kings Hall, Herne Bay.
She squealed in all the right places, shimmied with the dancers and belted out show-stopping songs like Fairground Attraction's Perfect, Queen's Don't Stop Me and Abba's Gimme, Gimme A Man After Midnight throughout the action-packed two-and-a-half hour spectacular. Of all the years I have been reviewing both professional and amateur productions she is the best Cinders I have ever seen.
Veteran actor Mark Edwards played her dad and did an excellent job chatting to youngsters on the stage for the Hokey Cokey singing session at the end of the show. Laughs came thick and fast from cheesy stripping ugly sisters Gorgon and Zola (computer boffin Nick Glykeriou and policeman Stuart Rogers) and the broker's men Snatchit and Grabbit, played a little too convincingly by Sue Bailey and her friend Brenda Juan.
Barry Dobson was still finding his feet as a blue-suited Buttons but it was his first panto for Theatrecraft, having been drafted in as an emergency replacement a matter of weeks ago. The group's secretary Chris Railton swapped her pen for a wand to play Dotty the Fairy Godmother from fairygodmother.com. Housewife Andrea Oliver and a confident Catherine Molloy played Prince Charming and Dandini and delighted in slapping their thighs in true panto tradition. Nick Easton was featured dressed as a lion and his son Liam made a brief appearance as a lion cub in a clever and complicated comedy sketch with the ugly sisters, Snatchit and Grabbit, Buttons and Baron Hardup.
The superb singers of the chorus and the junior dancers from Hasland School of Dance and Performing Arts were lifted by the sheer enthusiasm and professionalism of the four star dancers Stephanie Coburn, Jade Hager, Kim Maton and Natasha Radford. Fifth dancer Casey-Jo Thompson turned up as a shapely black cat.
I had never seen a cat in Cinderella before but it turned out to have an important role getting Cinders to try on the glass slipper and so win her prince, which explained why director Jo Gambrill was purr-fectly right to include the feline addition to the cast’
HERNE BAY TIMES