IT may all be about a special and somewhat titillating calendar, but what theatre director Lesley Barnard didn't realise was that she would suddenly have an extremely short calendar to deal with herself.
The reason being that Barnard had to take over one of the leading roles in Calendar Girls – which opens at the Pemads Little Theatre next week – with just 11 days to go to opening due to actress Hilary Coombe-Davis falling ill.
"We didn't really have a choice but for me to do it because it is too large a role for someone to step into at the last moment.
"But the cast and crew have been tremendously supportive and everyone is pulling together in many different ways," said the award-winning director and actress who will now double up her duties by playing Jessie.
"The character is supposed to be a retired teacher of 60, but we've made her younger by having her retire five or six years earlier. And in any event, I'll be doing my hair red when I'm 60 anyway," quipped the red-headed Barnard.
As for the "nudity" in the play – based on the true story of 11 mostly mature Women's Institute members who stripped off for a calendar to raise money for the Leukaemia Research Fund – Barnard said her priority was making it both fun and tasteful.
"Too much [emphasis on nudity] and you've spoilt it.
"If any audience member thinks they have seen something they shouldn't, well then, they must be armed with binoculars and have crept up from under the floorboards!" she chuckled.
"These are women in their 40s and 50s who've all got their wobbly bits – we all have at that age. But the calendar itself is beautiful and on stage all due precautions have been taken – you probably see more from backstage."
So all is set for the official Wednesday opening of the play that was turned into such a successful film starring Helen Mirren and Julie Walters, but it has been, as Barnard says, "a bit of a rough ride".
Greg Everard – who was cast in one of the smaller male roles – also had to pull out because of sickness and Barnard said she was fortunate enough to be able to fill that role quickly with AlgoaFM's Jason Perry coming to the rescue and agreeing without hesitation.
Barnard explained that one shouldn't think of the movie and the play as one and the same.
The original play scripted by Tim Firth was not that humorous and it was only with the production of the film – on which the playwright collaborated – that a new 2010 version of the script came about which is now the definitive fusion of both.
"So you have the best of the play and the best of the movie."
It's all for a good cause too as Pemads, which is staging the show, is hoping to raise R40000 for the Aloe Igazi Foundation – Dr Neil Littleton's haematology and leukaemia unit – which is the perfect choice of beneficiary.
In accordance with the rights, funds are raised for cancer research through the sale of an actual calendar featuring the cast which will be sold at the theatre during the course of the production.
The experienced troupe include Rose Cowpar, Yolande Farrow, Holly Milne, Vanessa Smith, Tanya Taylor, Liz Yates, Isobel McTiffin, Helen Wilkins and Emily Bradley. In the much smaller but nevertheless important male roles are Perry, Mark Farrow, Anton Steyn and Robert van den Ordel.
Bookings have opened at Computicket and tickets cost R75. Alternatively vouchers are on sale from cast members at a discounted rate of R65. Pemads is also offering a Tuesday night half price special on tickets, selling at R40.
Galas have already been sold for the following performances:
Monday: Preview gala in aid of Cansa Association. If you'd like to support them, contact Joan Duarte on (041) 373-5157.
Thursday: Catholic Women's League. Contact Sheila Thysse on 082 970 0731.
August 25: The Animal Anti-Cruelty League's matinee gala. Book through Linda-Louise Swain on 082 838 3988 or firstname.lastname@example.org
The Igazi Foundation will be holding two galas on August 31 – the final day of the run – both the matinee and evening performances.
Tickets may be bought through the foundation on 084-444-0400.