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Calendar Girls | Mill at Sonning

A tranquil view of River Thames on a spring afternoon is the perfect backdrop for a visit to Sonning's Mill Theatre. Audiences have the pleasure of enjoying a full meal at the adjacent restaurant before settling into the intimate 200-seater auditorium, where the current show of its 2024/25 season plays.

Based on a true story and the 2003 film of the same name by Tim Firth, Calendar Girls tells the story of a Yorkshire group from the Women's Institute who, in efforts to raise funds for Leukaemia Research, decided to produce a WI calendar for public sale; but not just any calendar - one that features nude poses from the women themselves, setting the scene for pure comedy to unfold.

The lighthearted narrative is reinforced throughout, with a fairly extended exposition to establish the lives of each woman prior to the a hilariously chaotic photoshoot for the calendar that subsequently made international headlines. Firth cleverly utilises a sudden shift in pace to catalyse the chaos of events all happening around the women's lives at once, complemented by Sally Hughes' prop-filled staging during one particular scene. Though the plot lingered on the said exposition for a considerable amount of time, speed is eventually picked up once again in the second act, which sees further development in the aftermath of this sold-out calendar between this unexpected media frenzy, the women themselves and their own personal lives.

The 12-strong ensemble cast successfully builds rapport with the constantly giggling crowd under Hughes’ direction, garnering a sense of community within the room of theatregoers. Each individual character earns their own one-liners, but among the cast of both seasoned and emerging talents are two personal stand-outs: Ciara Janson (Ruth) and Oscar Cleaver (Lawrence/Liam), the former a consistently endearing personality and the latter often leaving the audience in stitches (a feat especially in a professional theatre debut, too) as the photographer behind these highly creative calendar images.

Not having seen the original film nor its musical adaptation counterpart before, some references may seem slightly lost without explicit context, but with guaranteed laughs paired with an impressive pre-show experience (one cannot stress enough the uniqueness of dinner theatre), Calendar Girls is certainly the place to be for a night of heartwarming entertainment.

Calendar Girls is playing at The Mill at Sonning until 1st June. For more information and tickets, you can follow the link here.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ (4*)

Gifted tickets for an honest review | photography by Andreas Lambis


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