Photography by Alex Harvey Brown
Tanya Franks is best known for her role as Rainie Cross in EastEnders, as well as starring in Family Affairs, The Bill, Broadchurch, Chewing Gum, Inside No 9, and Mum. She was nominated at the British Comedy Awards in 2009 for her role of ‘Karen’ in Pulling, which gained a BAFTA nomination for best comedy series and won The South Bank Show award for Best Comedy. As the brand-new reimagined production of Calendar Girls the Musical gets set to tour the UK, we caught up with Tanya to find out more about playing the compassionate and witty ‘Annie Clarke’, whose husband’s illness is the catalyst of the story.
Q) Tanya, can you tell us a little about your character ‘Annie’ and a few words on the musical?
I play Annie who is the WI member whose husband is sadly diagnosed with blood cancer. And it’s because of his sad passing away that the actual calendar comes into existence, to raise money in his honour. The musical is really uplifting, and I think people will come out feeling a real sense of joy. The show does deal with grief of course, but the focus is very much on moving forward and coming out the other side. It’s all about friendship and support and camaraderie. Annie is based on the real-life original ‘Calendar Girl’ Angela, who I am hoping to meet at some point on the tour!
Q) Do you feel a sense of responsibility playing Angela’s story out on stage?
Oh absolutely. I actually hadn’t seen the previous musical, play or film before, as much as I had always meant to, and so I’ve come to this from a place of complete open mindedness. With hindsight I am really pleased about that, I’ve not been influenced by anything before me, which is quite lovely. However, we’ve been lucky to be working with the writer of the film, play and musical Tim Firth, who knows the original calendar ladies, so I feel comfortable that with his, and our director Jonathan O’Boyle’s guidance, I am being true to ‘Annie’. The wonderful thing about this story is that it deals with the very universal topics of love, loss, friendship, kindness and camaraderie, which makes it timeless. Bringing this to stage in a lovely musical brings lightness to the piece. Of course there are moments of sadness, but the musicality really brings a feeling of celebration in the joy of friendship and what can come out of devastating life experiences. It is full of hope, which is wonderful.
Q) Is there any Tanya in Annie?
I think with any character one plays there has to be something of you which you bring to it. I personally get attracted to playing characters that are actually very different from me and in many ways, Annie is one of those characters. She is more of a domesticated body than I am and probably not as adventurous as I am as Tanya! I love to learn from my characters and although I have dealt with grief in my life, I thankfully haven’t lost a partner or spouse through illness, so I think through Annie I have learnt something about dealing with this type of grief, how to move forward, and exploring more about what grief is through her…
Q) And the original Calendar girls really broke the mould didn’t they – it feels a little like they were some of the first ambassadors of body positivity for women of an older age..?
Yes, there are so many messages in the show that are relevant to women today around body-positivity. We seem to be living in a society that, sadly in my opinion, is more and more image conscious. Rather than people learning to live comfortably with who they are, it focusses so much on external image. A show like this really highlights and celebrates the fact we don’t have to live our lives focusing on physical image. It’s about self-acceptance and taking a step forward to loving oneself, as well as those around you. The celebration of oneself is just as important as the celebration of each other.
Q) Have you worked with any of the other ‘Girls’ before?
No, no I haven’t. I’ve only ever met Marti before when we were both interviewed on Gaby Roslin’s radio show together, however I haven’t worked with her. So it’s a fresh new team for me which is wonderful. We are all getting along superbly, it's beautiful! We’ve grown to really care about each other. There is a natural thing about this show that brings women together. We are quite vulnerable on stage, so we have to protect each other as well, especially in the scene of the calendar photoshoot! There is a vulnerability that as actors we need to support each other through, and we all look out for each other which I think has built a real quick bond between us. Also, as this is my first musical, it has been wonderful to be part of a group of ladies who really know their stuff as far as musicals are concerned.
Q) And how are you finding your first musical theatre role so far?
Oh It’s been great - it’s a really new and interesting process for me. Having done over 30 years in theatre, from West End to Fringe and everything in between, this is a first! A completely new avenue for me which is rather lovely!
Q) Do you have a favourite number in the show?
It would be so hard for me to pick one song. I have a couple of songs which I perform in it, both of which I adore for very different reasons, and there are others which the other ladies sing that are also wonderful numbers. It would be really difficult for me to choose just one song, they are all brilliant. The solos particularly are very identifiable to the characters who sing them and most of them very moving for that reason. Can I just say – ‘all of them?’
Q) And finally, if you could sum up the show in just 3 words what would they be?
Can I say four? Love, loss, acceptance and friendship.
The true story of the Calendar Girls launched a global phenomenon: a million copycat calendars, a record-breaking movie, now celebrating 20 years since its release, the fastest- selling stage play in British theatre history, and now a musical written by Gary Barlow and Tim Firth, which coined the term "craughing" - the act of crying and laughing at the same time! This re-imaged tour of Calendar Girls the Musical is packed full of unforgettable songs and with every performance continuing to add to the nearly £6 million already raised for Blood Cancer UK and prove that there is no such thing as an ordinary woman. Calendar Girls the Musical runs at New Wimbledon Theatre from the 31st October to the 4th November. For more information and tickets, you can follow the link here.