Tag Archives: Tim Firth



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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The Band

Theatre Royal Haymarket

The Band

The Band

Theatre Royal Haymarket & UK Tour

Reviewed – 5th December 2018


“tries to pack in a some messages along the way, some of these work and add a touch of sentiment to the show, but others feel a little unnecessary”


OK, from the start let’s make it clear – this is not, definitely not, a Take That musical. Set in Manchester, featuring five lads in a hugely successful boyband and blasting out the back catalogue of aforementioned supergroup, we’re clear from the onset … this is not, repeat not, a Take That Musical.

As we walk into the auditorium, we’re transported back to 1993 with a giant screen on stage rolling through the pages of Ceefax – a little lost on some of the younger audience members, but to us of a certain age, pure nostalgia. As the show starts we’re in what could be any teenaged girl’s bedroom of the time, with walls adorned with Smash Hits posters. We meet young Rachel (Faye Christall) who brings us up to speed about how she, and her mates Heather (Clayton), Debbie (Rachelle Diedricks), Claire (Sarah Kate Howarth) and Zoe (Lauren Jacobs) are in love with a certain boyband. Skip forward twenty five years and Rachel (Rachel Lumberg) wins a competition to see her beloved pop heroes in Prague. Having drifted apart from the others, she tracks them down and invites Heather (Emily Joyce), Zoe (Jayne McKenna) and Claire (Alison Fitzjohn) to see their childhood idols.

Throughout the plot opportunities are created to shoehorn in some of Take That’s biggest hits, with scenes that cleverly switch from us following the girls/women to us being in the audience of a concert. Most people will know that the lads in the band (A. J. Bentley, Yazdan Qafouri, Nick Carsberg, Curtis T Johns and Sario Soloman) were picked in the BBC contest ‘Let it Shine’. In the year and a half since, they have become a close knit five piece and the show (touring since September last year) has become the fastest selling musical theatre tour of all time.

However, Take That are masters of their game, from lad band to dad band, they have always been talented showmen who excel at everything they do so it’s hard not to compare the boys in The Band with Howard, Jason, Robbie, Gary and Mark; therein lies a problem – however hard they work, they are never going to compete either vocally or performance wise. Don’t get me wrong, AJ, Nick, Curtis, Sario and Yazdan are talented young performers, but there were a few duff notes and the choreography at times wasn’t quite as polished in places as it should have been for a West End stage.

The set (Jon Bausor) was fun with a few nice surprises. However, it did look a little like it was created just to be easily toured with. There were some clever use of video projection (Luke Halls) to flesh out scenes but this was inconsistent as for every outstanding part there was one which was rather unexciting.

The Band tries to pack in a some messages along the way, some of these work and add a touch of sentiment to the show, but others feel a little unnecessary. There are some parts which may raise a few eyebrows in this day and age – dodgy Polish accents and fat jokes to name a couple. This isn’t outstanding musical theatre and doesn’t deliver anything new. However, if you take it at face value, it is a fantastic, fun experience and certainly one you’ll Never Forget.


Reviewed by thespyinthestalls

Photography by Matt Crockett


The Band

Theatre Royal Haymarket until 12th January then continues UK tour


Previously reviewed at this venue:
The Rat Pack – Live From Las Vegas | ★★★½ | January 2018
Broken Wings | ★★★ | August 2018
Heathers | ★★★★ | September 2018


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