Can­cer com­edy gets it right

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE -

get the tone right when talk­ing about ter­mi­nal ill­ness.

Ad­mit­tedly it is a chal­lenge that is even harder for mirth-chal­lenged Mair than it is for most, but imag­ine how much harder it must be for a mu­si­cal to deal with can­cer, and harder still for a mu­si­cal that wants to make its au­di­ence laugh.

And yet, among all the things that could have gone so very wrong with Gary Bar­low and Tim Firth’s new show, and in­stead went so very right, most im­pres­sive was the tone.

Mis­judge a joke and you risk be­ing trite. Over-em­pha­sise grief and you blun­der into the maudlin. Death is a mine­field. But, with amaz­ing sure­foot­ed­ness, this show finds the laughs and elic­its the tears in ex­actly the right amounts at ex­actly the right times.

That said, Firth has be­come an ex­pert teller of one of stage and screen’s most en­dur­ing sto­ries. He wrote both the 2003 film and the play ver­sions of Cal­en­dar Girls on which this show is based.

You’d think he’d had enough. You’d think that any­one who had seen the film and the play had had enough.

But new life has been breathed into this real life-in­spired story about a group of re­spectable York­shire WI ladies who stripped for a cal­en­dar and good cause af­ter the hus­band of one of them dies of can­cer.

It was hoped the pro­ceeds would pay for a new sofa in the hospi­tal where he was treated. So far the ladies — some of whom came up on stage at the end of the per­for­mance — have raised over £5 mil­lion for leukaemia re­search and they are still count­ing.

Joanna Rid­ing as the wife of York­shire Dales park ranger and can­cer vic­tim John (James Gad­das) em­bod­ies the bal­anc­ing act of this show. From the ten­der and soar­ingly stoic score, only the im­promptu Christ­mas song Who Wants A Silent Night? felt oddly laboured in its at­tempt to re­veal the pas­sions that lay within these out­wardly con­ser­va­tive women. But the song in which Rid­ing’s An­nie asks who is go­ing to help open the stiff back door af­ter the ail­ing John has gone is a beau­ti­fully ob­served list of the mun­dane things that it takes two to do.

And if that sen­ti­men­tal­ity needed an an­ti­dote it is de­liv­ered with anger at the in­jus­tice of see­ing a good man die while bad peo­ple live, a sen­ti­ment that any­one who has lost a loved one to can­cer will recog­nise.

But it’s prob­a­bly Deb­bie Chazan as ne­glected wife Ruth who best em­bod­ies the tragi-comic heart of the show. Ini­tially ap­palled at the thought of tak­ing her clothes off no mat­ter what the cause, and fur­ther hu­mil­i­ated by her hus­band’s be­tray­als, she works up Dutch courage in the form of her “Rus­sian friend”, a bot­tle of vodka, later burst­ing into the photo shoot in a glo­ri­ous dis­play of com­edy drunk act­ing as she draped her body around a fruit dis­play.

It’s in this scene that some­thing rather won­der­ful hap­pens — when ladies of a cer­tain age, but ev­ery size, shape and char­ac­ter, pose for pic­tures.

There is a dar­ing amount of but­tock and boob ex­posed but, as Bar­low and Frith’s sig­na­ture tune called Dare says, you should never do what age ex­pects of you, which is as life-af­firm­ing a mes­sage as you could wish for.

PHOTO: MATT CROCK­ETT, DEWYNTERS

From left, Claire Machin, So­phie-Louise Dann, Joanna Rid­ing, Claire Moore and Deb­bie Chazen in

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