Tag Archives: Calendar Girls



Mill at Sonning

CALENDAR GIRLS at the The Mill at Sonning


“Innocently raunchy and with a feelgood factor as comforting as home-made plum jam”

‘We’re not naked… we are nude!’. This distinction is a playful leitmotif that runs through the charmingly English comedy-drama, “Calendar Girls”. That the debate can follow seamlessly from a discussion on the history of broccoli, or sit comfortably next to the stoical last words of a dying cancer patient, is testament to Tim Firth’s writing. Based on a true story that caught the world’s attention in 1998, the film release in 2003 was a global hit too; inevitably followed by the stage version which made its way to the West End. Sally Hughes’ revival at The Mill at Sonning is faithful to every note and nuance of the original, retaining the fine balance of humour and sadness without giving in to schmaltz or slapstick.

The story chronicles a group of women, members of the WI in a Yorkshire village. Following the death of Annie’s (Natalie Ogle) husband John (Andrew Ryan), the ladies decide to buy a new sofa for the hospital that treated John during his last days using the proceeds from their yearly calendar. Desperate to find a way of increasing its sales they hit on the idea of spicing up its subject matter by photographing themselves performing typical WI activities (baking, gardening, playing the piano, knitting… and so on) but naked (sorry – nude!).

We are in an authentically rural landscape peopled by down to earth, self-mocking Yorkshire folk that Hughes’ cast present as the real thing. The scenes follow the months and seasons over a year. From the women’s initial resistance to stripping off, then relishing the idea, through to milking it for all its worth and ultimately providing a far grander memorial to John than they could ever imagine. Of course, along the way we witness the personal confrontations and mini dramas of these individuals as they grapple with their fears and desires.

“Kitty Harris and Dawn Perllman compliment the company with dual roles, adding further light and shade to an already dynamic production that gently gnaws at our emotions”

Imperious and snobbish Marie (a delightful Elizabeth Elvin) leads (or rather tries to lead) the ramshackle, sometimes subversive group of women. Debbie Arnold’s sassy Cora conceals her own insecurities behind rebellious, bluesy piano chords while Basienka Blake’s Celia wears hers as openly as her sex appeal and glamour. Natalie Ogle, as Annie, convincingly captures the emotions of a woman recently bereaved, clashing and reconciling with Rachel Fielding’s Chris – the ambitious matriarch who’s hard coating shields a heart of gold. Sarah Whitlock, as Jessie, has some of the juiciest lines, matched by Ciara Janson’s initially timid Ruth who ripens into a sauciness that equals the others’ gaiety and glee at baring all (well – nearly all).

Only have half of the year’s months are captured on camera for the calendar, which shortens the pivotal scene in which the women find ingenious ways of preserving their modesty when shell-shocked amateur (a hilarious Oscar Cleaver who doubles as cocksure TV lackey Liam) is roped in as official photographer. In fact, we mustn’t forget the men in this piece, who do in fact carry much of the emotional burden on their shoulders. Steven Pinder, as Chris’ neglected husband Rod, holds a fragile and tipsy veneer over his own lonely struggles while Andrew Ryan’s John short-lived role captures the sad deterioration of the cancer victim with a vulnerable strength.

Kitty Harris and Dawn Perllman compliment the company with dual roles, adding further light and shade to an already dynamic production that gently gnaws at our emotions. It paws rather than hits. We purr rather than laugh out loud and our eyes glass over rather than shed tears. There is a reserve that is quintessentially British and that is utterly fitting for this interpretation. Innocently raunchy and with a feelgood factor as comforting as home-made plum jam. A heart-warming tale of people coming together, layered with humour and topped with a creamy layer of poignancy.


CALENDAR GIRLS at the Mill at Sonning

Reviewed on 20th April 2024

by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Andreas Lambis





Previously reviewed at this venue:

HIGH SOCIETY | ★★★★ | December 2023
IT’S HER TURN NOW | ★★★ | October 2023
GYPSY | ★★★★★ | June 2023
TOP HAT | ★★★★ | November 2022
BAREFOOT IN THE PARK | ★★★★ | July 2022



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Calendar Girls announces Casting for UK Tour



David Pugh & Dafydd Rogers, the producers of Gary Barlow and Tim Firth’s musical comedy, CALENDAR GIRLS The Musical, based on the true story, the film and the award-winning play by Tim Firth, Calendar Girls, are delighted to announce that the production will return home to Yorkshire and open at the Leeds Grand Theatre on 16 August 2018 at the start of a new UK & Ireland Tour.  The first 30 weeks are listed below, with further dates to be added.

The new tour will star novelist and television presenter Fern Britton, returning to the stage for the first time in 30 years, as Marie, Lorraine Bruce (Kay Mellor’s The Syndicate and theatre credits include Piaf at The Donmar and Vernon God Little at the Young Vic) as Cora, Anna-Jane Casey (Billy Elliot on tour, Stepping Out in London’s West End, title role in Annie Get Your Gun at Sheffield Crucible) as Annie, Sara Crowe (West End roles include Bedroom Farce, The Real Inspector Hound & Black Comedy and Hay Fever) as Ruth, Ruth Madoc (Hi-De-Hi, Little Britain and Gypsy) as Jessie, Rebecca Storm (discovered by Willy Russell and cast as Mrs Johnstone in Blood Brothers, and her handprints are part of the Dublin’s Gaiety Theatre Walk of Fame) as Chris and Denise Welch (The Rise and Fall of Little Voice, Coronation Street and Waterloo Road) as Celia.

The critically acclaimed and award-winning production played a six-month London season at the Phoenix Theatre last year, and, before that, this musical comedy played sold-out seasons in Leeds and Manchester.

Tim Firth said,

“To be given a chance to revisit CALENDAR GIRLS The Musical is a unique opportunity.  Gary [Barlow] and I have been working away and, as the great Stephen Sondheim said, ‘MUSICAL COMEDIES AREN’T WRITTEN, THEY ARE REWRITTEN’.”

Gary Barlow added,

“What a phenomenal new cast we have.  Tim and I sat in – and indeed played – on the auditions and have been so lucky to have put together such talented ladies.”


Gary Barlow and Tim Firth grew up in the same village in the North of England and have been friends for 25 years.  With Take That, Gary has written and co-written 14 number one singles, has sold over 50 million records worldwide and is a six times Ivor Novello Award winner.  Tim has won the Olivier Award and UK Theatre Award for Best New Musical, and the British Comedy Awards Best Comedy Film for Calendar Girls.
CALENDAR GIRLS THE MUSICAL is inspired by the true story of a group of ladies, who decide to appear nude for a Women’s Institute calendar in order to raise funds to buy a settee for their local hospital, in memory of one of their husbands, and have to date raised almost £5million for Bloodwise. This musical comedy shows life in their Yorkshire village, how it happened, the effect on husbands, sons and daughters, and how a group of ordinary ladies achieved something extraordinary.
Bloodwise, the UK’s specialist blood cancer charity, will continue to receive monies from this production.
CALENDAR GIRLS The Musical is directed by Matt Ryan and designed by Robert Jones, with comedy staging by Jos Houben, movement by Lucy Hind and casting by Sarah Bird.




Photography by John Swannell


For full tour details, click on the image below




The Girls – Production Photographs

The Girls – Gala Night Photographs