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Review: Calendar Girls

Calendar Girls is so coy it makes 'Sex and the City' look like 'Debbie Does Dallas'. Yet Carrie and her foursome have this in common with the ladies: their purpose is more political than theatrical.

'Calendar Girls' is a simple story of ordinary women asserting control over their body image, in the face of an oppressively conservative culture -- 'Sex and the City' has more sass, but its message isn't too dissimilar.

That message clearly resonates with the full house at the Grand Canal, dominated by women of indeterminate age. They applaud the modest frolics with which the ladies partially disrobe, and laugh loudly at jokes I miss.

Whereas the storylines in 'Sex and the City' were always, at best, incidental, at the heart of 'Calendar Girls' is a fantastic story: one of heartbreak, heroism, and triumph against the odds.

Which makes it such a shame that this telling of it is so relentlessly unimaginative and uninspired.

One expects West End productions to be slick and well-produced.

Tim Firth's script makes Willy Russell look like Beckett. The set is, at best, dull; at the climax, it is transformed into a bed of sunflowers so transparently plastic we can actually hear them crack off each other.

The acting is an awkward mix of pantomime (required by the vast auditorium) and naturalism (required by the individual microphones). Muddy acoustics mar any poignancy; distance from the stage dulls the coy humour and conspiratorial intimacy that it is presumably supposed to engender.

The Grand Canal Theatre works well for musicals, but this suggests that its size may defeat straight plays.