The true story of the Knapely Womens’ Institute has touched hearts world wide and last night’s performance by the Brighton & Hove Operatic Society was no exception – in fact it was exceptional. From the stirring opening number to the very last this local group proved more than their worth. Had I not known I would not have been surprised to find that this was a professional touring production.

The musical version of the story was penned by Tim Firth and Gary Barlow, and is packed with both humour and heartfelt sadness. The whole hangs around a group of friends celebrating the life and sad death to leukaemia of one husband, a popular local taken too soon. But what the play does is reveal the stories of those women as they face the life changing challenge of stepping outside their comfort zones and stripping off for a nude calendar. It gives rise to much mirth but also to soul searching as the main characters face their own fears, ageing, body image, bad marriages, weight and the expected conventions of women associated the the jam and Jerusalem ethic.

The true story has been filmed, staged and this time comes with songs, rather good songs. Firth and Barlow have not packed it with pop numbers but created a work of musical theatre where every note and every well constructed lyric is there for a reason, colouring the story and progressing the narrative.

And the company more than do it justice. There’s not a weak link on that stage from the chorus to the principals and as such there are far too many names to mention them all. But it would also be unfair not to mention a few. Jim Apted is excellent as John and portrays the sad decline so very well. Tania Newton triumphs as Annie with a powerful voice and moving presence throughout. Emma Edwards is so very good as Chris, feisty yet flawed but that voice is exceptional and the same must be said of Ann Atkins, Hannah Williams, Amy Marchand, Emma Thornton and a big hand for Steve Emery’s comic timing as Rod. Both Nathan Reeve and James Hoare are first class and Evie McGuire equally so. Kate Peltzer-Dunn’s Marie is every bit the repressed and uptight house-wife that the role demands and hats (and knickers) off to Tea and Coffee, the misses Wilson. Dan Jones’ portrayal of Lawrence is sensitive and perfectly understated given what he has to do.

The BHOS have once again triumphed. The production is slick, the band good and Claire Lewis has directed with a steady hand bringing out every emotion and every laugh. I could easily sit through it again.

Andrew Kay

22 June

Theatre Royal Brighton

Rating: ★★★★★


  1. Elaine says:

    Fantastic show from start to finish tears and laughter Throughout the show the atmosphere in The theatre portrayed this well done to all the cast first class

  2. Cynth Howe says:

    Well deserved review Andrew

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