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THIS IS MY FAMILY - Chichester - 20th April - 15th June 2019

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Images/redesign/this-is-my-family/2019-Festival/Kirsty MacLaren (Nicky) and Rachel Lumberg (Sian).jpgKirsty MacLaren (Nicky) and Rachel Lumberg (Sian)

Kirsty MacLaren (Nicky) and James Nesbitt (Steve)
Kirsty MacLaren (Nicky) and James Nesbitt (Steve)

Sheila Hancock as May
Sheila Hancock as May

Clare Burt as Yvonne
Clare Burt Returns as Yvonne

Scott Folan as Matt
Scott Folan as Matt

2019 Photo Credit:
Johan Persson


This Is My Family - poster

Director Daniel Evans speaking in 2013, said:
‘I am so thrilled to be premiering this new musical by Tim Firth in Sheffield this summer. From the moment I heard the first chord played on the piano, I knew I wanted to direct it at the Crucible. I hadn’t heard anything like it before. The music, lyrics and dialogue all come from Tim, and that’s a rare thing. The characters feel so recognisable and offer a refreshingly honest and funny portrayal of modern family life, to which I think everyone will be able to relate. We have been working on the production for over eighteen months and I’m excited to be working with such a brilliant cast and talented musicians to bring Tim’s vision to the stage.’

Clare Burt as Mum (Yvonne)

Nicky - Evelyn Hoskins


Nicky played by Evelyn Hoskins
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Mum - Yvonne, played by Clare Burt
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Rachel Lumberg as Sian
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Bil Champoin as Steve (dad)
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Terence keey as Matt (brother)
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Sian Philips plays  Gran.  Photo Credit: Keith Pattison

... By complete contrast, another new British musical THIS IS MY FAMILY, is everything Charlie (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) isn’t: modest, moving and compassionate, it makes the ordinary seem extraordinary, as a family adventure holiday summons both past ghosts and present shadows passing over three generations.
Playwright Tim Firth has created a sincere, sophisticated and joyful musical that threads his own gentle songs through the scenes seamlessly. The show is by turns jaunty and reflective and the family is tenderly and truthfully portrayed by a cast that include Bill Champion and Clare Burt as the parents and the radiantly wonderful Sian Philips as grandmother.

Mark Shenton

i recommendation for YTHIS IS MY FAMILY: "The subject of a family holiday seems lacking in grandeur for playwright/composer Tim Firth and director daniel Evans, but their study of midlife crisis and teenager angstis unashamedly feelgood and very funny. Rachel Lumberg delivers much of the comic muscle but the entire cast is good."

Lyn Gardner theatre Blog in the Guardian: "You will also have to hurry for This is my Family, the hugely enjoyable Tim Firth musical, which ends at the Crucible in Sheffield tomorrow."

























Theatre and Tim Firth

This Is My Family 2019


Tim's musical comedy

Book and music by Tim Firth
Directed by Daniel Evans
Designed by Richard Kent
Musical Direction by Caroline Humphris
Lighting Design by David Plater
Sound Design by Paul Arditti
Movement Direction by Carrie-Anne Ingrouille
Casting Driector by Charlotte Sutton

Produced by Chichester Festival Theatre
Premiered at Sheffield Studio Theatre 19 June 2013

Presented at Chichester Festival Theatre.


The Cast


The Cast:

Steve - James Nesbitt
May - Sheila Hancock
- Clare Burt
Nicky - Kirsty MacLaren
Matt - Scott Foley
Sian - Rachel Lumberg


Caroline Humphris - Keyboard
Kathryn James - Violin & Viola
Jess Cox - Cello
Nicki Davenport - Double Bass
Gerry Berkley - Percussion
Mike Davis - Flute/Clarinet/Bass Clarinet
Fiona Clifton-Welker - Harp

2019 Chichester Photographs
May - Sheila Hancock Sian - Rachel Lumberg
Nicky - Kirsty MacLaren Matt - Scott Foley
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THIS IS MY FAMILY Reviews 2019


5 Star review

Musicals head inexorably towards big ensemble numbers, a convention underlining the genre’s default moral of redemptive togetherness. So This Is My Family is striking in having no choral singing at all. Even when several of the six characters sing together, they hold their own lines contrapuntally. This device sonically illustrates the show’s subject of family life, a dynamic in which the best hope of harmony is that stubborn solos occasionally coincide.

Daughter Nicky, 13, wins a children’s competition for an essay about relatives. But the account that touches the judges glosses over the communication gulf between mum and dad, gran’s developing dementia, big brother’s goth-related catatonia, and auntie’s heat-seeking libido. The prize is a family holiday anywhere, but the location chosen seeds a surprising change of set and mood in the second act.

Writer Tim Firth and director Daniel Evans have substantially revived a work they premiered at Sheffield in 2013. The score and all sung and spoken words are by Firth alone, a multitasking very rare in musical theatre, except for Willy Russell’s Blood Brothers, with which This Is My Family has engaging similarities in its thrifty use of reprise and smooth movement between jokes and emotion.

Many of the songs are wry recitative or dialogue lightly rested on a string line, but Firth can also write big comic compositions, including one in which mum’s libidinous sister compares the stages of a long sexual relationship to the increasing mess and dents in a car bought smart and new. Sheila Hancock’s church-going gran is given a signature hymn, learned in childhood, the uncertainty of its lyrics serving as an indicator of the progress of senility.

As might be expected from a writer whose CV includes comedies as strong as Calendar Girls (film, play and musical versions) and Neville’s Island (with which This Is My Family shares an interest in the middle-class desire to get back to nature), Firth also delivers multiple terrific spoken gags and unexpected punchlines.

The starriness of the casting suggests London West End ambitions that deserve to be fulfilled. James Nesbitt, plausibly adapting his native Northern Irish tones to Firth’s northern English register, is moving and game (scenes on rollerblades and in swimming trunks) as a father who fears he has failed professionally and personally. Hancock wrenchingly sings and speaks a part demanding the hard technical task of depicting scattiness with precision. Kirsty MacLaren combines sharpness and sweetness as Nicky, a sort of Adrienne Mole narrator.

Clare Burt ruefully portrays the fight between disappointment and loyalty in a wife and mother who wants to keep her family together; Rachel Lumberg is perkily earthy as the man-mad aunt, with Scott Folan very funnily embodying the sudden postural, vocal, and fashion transformations of an insecure student.

The show’s theme of alternate possibilities is architecturally suggested by Richard Kent’s two-faced set, revolving between twee suburbia and muddy rurality. Director Evans, a considerable singer and actor himself, achieves unusually fluid transitions between dialogue and music.

Funny, touching, but also alert to the darker uncertainties of life, This Is My Family should certainly have further generations.



4 Star Review

This Is My Family, Minerva, Chichester, review: a down-to-earth delight of a musical 

Tim Firth’s comic musical about a family going on holiday first saw the light of day in Sheffield in 2013, directed by Daniel Evans. People liked it – it won awards as the best new musical and went on tour – and then it vanished.

But with attractive and appropriate loyalty Evans, now artistic director of the Chichester Festival Theatre has revived it in his smaller Minerva Theatre at Chichester, with some of the same cast (Clare Burt and Rachel Lumberg as contrasting but affectionate sisters) and the addition of James Nesbitt, Sheila Hancock, Kirsty MacLaren and Scott Folan as the rest of the clan. It is something approaching a triumph.

Firth, of course, has got form both as a writer of musicals (Calendar Girls, The Band) and of comedy (Neville's Island). Both flow together here in an apparently simple but surprisingly touching and truthful show, which takes a few melodies and winds them through the action in a witty portrayal of an ordinary family facing an ordinary mid-life, empty nest crisis and embarking on a disastrous camping trip.

The daughter Nicky (MacLaren, familiar from Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour and utterly engaging) is our guide; she wins a competition for her description of her family in which their rough edges are smoothed out by love, and decides to heal the breaches that are opening between them by taking them back to their past on holiday.

Those rifts are instantly recognisable to anyone who has grown up in a family. Father Steve (Nesbitt in fine comic form) tries to recapture his lost youth by rollerblading at 50, and mourns the fact that he has ended up working in a job identical to the one carried out at an office in Croydon. Mum Yvonne despairs of his cack-handed DIY – "Don't marry a man who builds you a bath in his rockery" she implores her daughter – and has fallen into a routine of practicalities which disguise her fears about her family leaving her.

Burt invests even a line about a broadband bill with a kind of tender regret – and Lumberg as her rambunctious sister has the song of the night, in her wonderful number that compares sex with a new man to driving a new car. Meanwhile Matt (Folan, all confusion and kindess) is going through his goth phase, and suffering the pains of first love, bellowing poems to his ex-girlfriend into his mobile, and grandma May, a religious woman with a fondness for bleach, is slipping into dementia.

What makes these archetypes so engaging is partly the razor sharpness of Firth's script and lyrics, which cleverly undercut moments of sentiment, and partly the even-handedness of the portrayals. No one is patronised here. Nesbitt may have a moment in which he translates Matt's teenage mumbles into English, but Matt has his turn too when he describes his father's midlife crisis.

The show is full of love and kindness. Nowhere is this truer than in Hancock's luminous playing of May's stumble into forgetfulness and loss. Singing the words of a hymn that resonate through the action, she catches a mix of terror, anger and reverie that roots the production in such real emotion that you find yourself crying even while you laugh at the mayhem.

It's a delicate balance and Evans' direction holds it perfectly while Richard Kent's design, rotating to represent both a colourful, cluttered family home and a wild wood, provides a magnificent setting for a gentle show that lingers in the heart.

Sarah Crompton


4 Star Review

Tim Firth’s better-known musicals The Girls and The Band have been doing the rounds the last couple of years, but this 2013 show could well be his best work.

Firth wrote the music, story, book and lyrics for this story of a girl who enters a competition to win a holiday for her dysfunctional family. The simplicity is what makes the show sing. It consists of just six or seven tunes, repeated throughout. In this way Firth unearths something a little bit magic in the mundane.

Now Daniel Evans, who directed its Sheffield premiere, is reviving it in Chichester. Clare Burt and Rachel Lumberg reprise their roles as sisters Yvonne and Sian. They’re both brilliant. Burt plays the dry, slightly despairing mum whose fractious relationship with husband Steve (James Nesbitt) threatens the family, Lumberg the loud and fun loving aunt. The new additions to the cast are equally good.

Nesbitt gives a particularly game performance, rollerblading across the stage and taking a very chilly-looking bath in just his swimmers.

While the family holiday plot might seem quite basic and coalesces into a conveniently schmaltzy climax, Firth’s writing has an undercurrent of real complexity. Speech weaves into song, little lines charting the boring bits of family life – “we’re out of teabags…school shirts are in the dryer” – punctuate the music. There’s a layer of poetry to his writing.

The same is true of the music: the repeating themes, moulded to different lyrics may seem quite twee, but Firth tweaks them in fascinating ways. As grandmother May, Sheila Hancock repeatedly sings a hymn that she learned in her childhood, and sang to her son and then her grandchildren throughout her life. Now she’s forgetting it, and Firth’s music keeps modulating into different keys as Hancock stops and starts in confusion.

At the centre of all this is Kirsty MacLaren, as 13 year old Nicky, who semi-narrates the piece. Just as Nicky’s optimism and enthusiasm holds her family together, so MacLaren’s wonderfully warm performance holds the show together.

Richard Kent’s set is a little fussy, particularly when it transforms from a beautifully condensed house, split into coloured segments and looking like the Oliver Bonas Instagram account, into a forest of trees. This looks very cool, but the complexity doesn’t add much to the production.
Otherwise it’s pretty faultless. The cast is top-notch, there’s an abundance of gags and the music is stirring. Evans’ direction keeps everything running smoothly as Firth captures all the weirdness and drama, the humour and sadness, and above all, the love in family life.

While the family holiday plot might seem quite basic and coalesces into a conveniently schmaltzy climax, Firth’s writing has an undercurrent of real complexity. Speech weaves into song, little lines charting the boring bits of family life – “we’re out of teabags…school shirts are in the dryer” – punctuate the music. There’s a layer of poetry to his writing.

The same is true of the music: the repeating themes, moulded to different lyrics may seem quite twee, but Firth tweaks them in fascinating ways. As grandmother May, Sheila Hancock repeatedly sings a hymn that she learned in her childhood, and sang to her son and then her grandchildren throughout her life. Now she’s forgetting it, and Firth’s music keeps modulating into different keys as Hancock stops and starts in confusion.

At the centre of all this is Kirsty MacLaren, as 13 year old Nicky, who semi-narrates the piece. Just as Nicky’s optimism and enthusiasm holds her family together, so MacLaren’s wonderfully warm performance holds the show together.

Richard Kent’s set is a little fussy, particularly when it transforms from a beautifully condensed house, split into coloured segments and looking like the Oliver Bonas Instagram account, into a forest of trees. This looks very cool, but the complexity doesn’t add much to the production.

Otherwise it’s pretty faultless. The cast is top-notch, there’s an abundance of gags and the music is stirring. Evans’ direction keeps everything running smoothly as Firth captures all the weirdness and drama, the humour and sadness, and above all, the love in family life.




Families are like snowflakes – uniform from afar, but increasingly unique the closer you get to them. And the success of this musical lies in how it captures this dichotomy so well.

The titular family is made up of six members, led by James Nesbitt of Cold Feet fame – each entering a new phase in their life, and each so well-defined yet simultaneously familiar that they will remind you of your own relatives.

There is the moody goth teen and his father in a full-blown midlife crisis, both struggling with how to be grown up. The wilful and optimistic daughter, who reminds her mother of what she was like before parenthood hijacked her identity; the grandmother who is losing herself to dementia and the aunt who is regaining herself after divorce.

So when Nicky – the youngest member of the clan – wins a prize for a holiday of her choosing and surprises her parents with a trip to the forest where they first met, it proves to be an adventure to remember what they have in common.

While Nesbitt was entertaining as the free-running, shake-chugging dad who cannot accept getting old, first among equals for me was Sian the aunt. Rachel Lumberg had the audience laughing out loud with her bawdy sex talk and innuendo, in an effervescent performance.

Let’s just say I won’t be seeing Wookey Hole in the same way again.
Special mention should also go to Sheila Hancock as May, who delivered the pathos of the piece with flashes of fire and humour bursting through the haze of her confused mind.

The production is at its best when finding the beauty in the mundane workings of family life – but at times I found the writing could veer from poetic to obtuse.

Thankfully these were few and far between, and judging by the standing ovation at the end, this is a great way to kick off the CFT's 2019 season.



4 Star Review

When I arrived at Chichester Festival Theatre last night to see the first production of this year’s season I was uncharacteristically unprepared. I’m normally that person who meticulously researches every little detail of a show before seeing it but like the changing of a season or the realisation you’re no longer as fit (or young) as you used to be the date rather crept up on me.

To be honest I’m rather glad it did, one of the joys of discovering something new is the lack of expectation and this little gem from Calendar Girls/Neville’s Island writer Tim Firth blindsided me with it’s warmth and sense of fun, even when dealing with painful situations. It’s a musical, but it doesn’t feel like one, the songs serving the story rather than stopping it. Daniel Evans’ direction allows everything to flow seamlessly and the use of music, the witty set design and simplicity of the staging all give us the opportunity to see the characters fully form.

Nicky is 13 and enters a competition to win a holiday by writing about her family, mum and dad, her older brother, gran and her aunt. When she wins she decides to light a spark by taking her parents back to the place where they first met. All the time they deal with the failing health of her grandmother May, the emotional outbursts of her brother Matt, a leather clad goth in the first flush of love and the perpetual excitement of her aunt Sian, freshly divorced and in a new relationship.

Relationships are the key here, Nicky is growing up and finding herself more distant from her brother, mum and day – Yvonne and Steve – struggle to communicate their feelings, Sian is trying to replace the comfort of a long term relationship with the excitement of a new partner and May, showing increasing signs of dementia, is frequently held prisoner by her own memories.

Sounds miserable, and there are more than a few moments that will have you welling up but this is a surprisingly joyous show about embracing what you have rather than regretting what could have been.

Kirsty MacLaren as Nicky is the heart of the piece, effortlessly embodying the precociousness of childhood with the growing understanding her family isn’t as perfect as she might once have believed. Her interactions with all the cast are perfectly nuanced, but none more so than with Sheila Hancock as May. Their relationship is genuinely touching and all too real. Hancock herself captures the struggles May is having incredibly well, from lucid moments of refusing her prescribed medicine “I was a nurse for 40 years, I know when people need those pills and when they don’t!” to her heartbreaking as she struggles to remember her favourite hymn and her wide eyed joy at returning memories of her long dead husband.

If Nicky is the heart of the piece then Clare Burt’s world-weary Yvonne is the soul. Constantly trying to keep her family moving in the same direction. As she tries to explain love to her son, or compares the comfort of her marriage to her sister’s excitement at her new sexual partner she, more than the bricks and mortar they live in embodies the sense of home. Rachel Lumberg’s Sian is the perfect foil, boisterous where Yvonne is weary, brash when she is quiet, their bond is really rather lovely to see!

James Nesbitt seems to relish his role as Steve, the patriarch of the family who is coming to terms with his age by taking up and discarding countless hobbies. He struggles to communicate with his son (Scott Folan making the most of Matt’s outlandish declarations of love for his new girlfriend), his wife and everyone around him until the holiday allows him the chance to open up by returning to his first moments with Yvonne.

I won’t spoil the direction the piece heads but there’s something satisfying and tangible about everything you will see over the couple of hours of this play.

There will be bigger, bolder and more dramatic productions throughout the season this year, but this family will be the ones you want to climb on stage and spend time with!

FOOTNOTE: THIS IS MY FAMILY finished its Chichester run on Saturday (15th June) having become the most successful show in the history of the Minerva Theatre.

The full THIS IS MY FAMILY ensemble


This Is My Family: Tim's first musical


Tim's new musical comedy

Book and music by Tim Firth
Directed by Daniel Evans
Associate Direction by Jonathon O'Boyle
Designed by Richard Kent
Musical Direction by Caroline Humphris
Lighting Design by David Plater
Sound Design by Nick Greenhill
Movement Direction by Lucy Hind

Produced by Sheffield Theatres
Premiered at Sheffield Studio Theatre 19 June 2013

Presented at Sheffield Lyceum & touring UK theatres.


The Cast


The Cast:

Yvonne - Clare Burt
Steve - Bill Champion
Nicky - Evelyn Hoskins
Matt - Terence keeley
Sian - Rachel Lumberg
May - Marjorie Yates


Caroline Humphris - Keyboard
Toby Higgins - Percussion
Jamie Pringle - Cello
Harriet Scott - Double Bass
Ian Watson - Accordion

" … the minutiae of family life is nicely observed, and cleverly recreated in Tim Firth's expertly layered score and lyrics. "

Tour photographs
This Is My family 2014 touring photographs This Is My family 2014 touring photographs
This Is My family 2014 touring photographs This Is My family 2014 touring photographs


The Reviews

neville's Island four star review - The Telegraph


Tim Firth must have a shelf where he keeps his awards for projects such as Calendar Girls and Neville’s Island; and a bushel, under which he has been hiding his musical talent. Yet like Willy Russell (with whom he occasionally performs as a musical duo) Firth wrote songs before he wrote plays, so it’s natural that the two should eventually fuse.

" Every song in this hugely enjoyable production, centred on a family camping holiday, has a ring of truth to it "

Firth’s debut musical was warmly received on its initial try-out at the Crucible studio last year, and Daniel Evans’s hugely enjoyable production is now on a national tour. The premise is simple: 13-year-old Nicky Perry has won a family camping holiday for describing her household in a writing contest; what we see is effectively a sung version of the prize-winning essay.

Every musical must justify why the characters converse in song: taking his cue from opera composers down the years, Firth employs music as the most comprehensible medium for a situation in which everyone talks at the same time. Camping holidays are no longer a a viable option for the Perry family. Older brother Matt is a monosyllabic goth who refuses to come, having married his girlfriend in a druidic ceremony; grandmother May cannot be left behind due to the onset of dementia; the hot-tub that was supposed to bring everyone closer together becomes the inspiration for a number entitled Never Marry a Man Who Puts a Bath Tub in Your Rockery.

Every note has a ring of truth: Bill Champion’s anguished cry of “Serves you right you stupid orange bastard” draws laughter of pained recognition from any dad who has attempted to pitch a tent in a downpour. Evelyn Hoskins’s sensible Nicky is a winning narrator: chances are, the way she describes her family will make it sound uncommonly close to yours as well.


neville's Island four star review - The Telegraph


Following last year's successful run at Sheffield Theatres' Studio, This is My Family returns to the bigger, newly refurbished, Lyceum stage, before embarking on a national tour. This is a brave and risky move, as the show's intimate, quirky nature makes it naturally more suited to the smaller venue.

That said, it does not appear lost on the big stage: the cast are certainly more than capable of filling it with their presence, and designer Richard Kent has done a good job of scaling up his eye-catching design.

The cast make a strong ensemble, but the show's irresistible charm is largely due to the phenomenal central performance of Evelyn Hoskins as thirteen-year-old Nicky. Never straying anywhere near the twee or the cloying, Hoskins perfectly captures the physicality, speech patterns and attitudes of our likeable child narrator, drawing us into her world and her family. Equally convincing is Terence Keeley as her seventeen-year-old brother Matt, whose portrayal of teenage boyhood has the audience is stitches.

At times, the script relies a little too heavily on stereotype, and the emotional journeys the characters make are hardly unexpected, but the minutiae of family life is nicely observed, and cleverly recreated in Tim Firth's expertly layered score and lyrics.

There are a couple of haunting melodies and catchy numbers you will go home humming, but there is just as much joy in sections of overlapping recitative about the post and the washing. All in all, a very enjoyable production.


neville's Island four star review - The Telegraph


Part family saga of self-discovery, part paean to the pitfalls and pleasures of parenthood, part down-to-earth domestic comedy and partly tapping into the current popularity of researching family history, Tim Firth’s lively and life-affirming new musical comedy received high critical praise when it premiered at the Crucible Studio last summer. And it now - ahead of a four-date national tour - makes the short hop across the road to reopen the Lyceum, where a three-month break for a £1.9m renovation has added yet another important landmark to this Edwardian-era venue’s long genealogy, a significant chunk of the funding coming from Sheffield Theatres’ own extended family of supporters and donors.

During the intervening period, while the Lyceum’s technical facilities were being upgraded and front-of-house facilities dramatically reconfigured (including a major refurbishment of the Balcony seating), Firth has taken time off to brush-up his original witty script and fine-tune his tuneful score, and director Daniel Evans has expanded his in-the-round studio staging to embrace a proscenium-framed space.

The theatre’s newly installed state-of-the-art lighting system certainly throws a bright new shine on the story of 13-year-old Nicky taking mum, dad, granny, her moody teen brother and embarrassing auntie on a dream holiday of a lifetime that turns into a nightmarish voyage of self-discovery. And the set design - a sliced-through typical semi-detached home filled with the clutter of family life that changes symbolically from a half-way house held together by chipboard into a wild wood where the family tree is rooted - has been reframed to fit the new space and ought to slot neatly into the production’s scheduled touring venues.

The original cast not only reprise their roles from the original run, with the magnificent Marjorie Yates joining them as the hymn-singing gran edging towards memory loss, but they seem to have grown into the heart and soul of these characters. Apart from giving full measure to Firth’s intertwining songs and dialogue, backed by a five-piece onstage band, they bring a recognisable reality to three generations of an ordinary family where everyone is at a turning point and inherited genes are in danger of becoming become disunited.

Overall, Firth’s sparky, light touch approach never manages to quite reach the comic and dramatic potential he achieved in Our House, Calendar Girls or Neville’s Island, recently revived at Chichester and about to transfer to the West End. Even so, there is genuine theatrical depth in Evans’ immaculate production, ensuring that the fun comes from watching a family bickering along but sticking together after teetering on the brink of falling apart, with Evelyn Hoskins giving a stand-out performance as wide-eyed Nicky, the cheeky catalyst for change.

If part of the thinking behind the Lyceum refurbishment is to enable the company to originate more touring work, they’ve got off to a terrific start with this enjoyable family-friendly, medium-scale musical.

Verdict: Tim Firth’s reworked family musical heralds a new era for the refurbished Lyceum



The Sheffield Lyceum has reopened, following a £1.9 million refurbishment programme, and the show chosen to launch it was This is My Family, Tim Firth's musical that enjoyed a short and well-received run in the city's Crucible Studio theatre in 2013. This production, directed by Daniel Evans, reunites five of the six original cast members (Evelyn Hoskins, Bill Champion, Clare Burt, Terence Keeley, Rachel Lumberg) with Marjorie Yates taking over the role of grandmother May.

The musical, which will tour nationally following its Lyceum run, focuses on the lives, loves and labours of an ordinary family as they embark on one extraordinary holiday. The story is told through the eyes of teenager Nicky (Evelyn Hoskins) whose observations of her parents, brother, aunt and grandmother are in turns acerbic and poignant.

The musical successfully gets across the sense of life in a 'normal' family: its absurdities, tragedies, conflicts and celebrations, and it no doubt helps that the cast have performed this together before, as there is a real chemistry between the performers and this brings great energy to the scenes, allowing the audience to laugh, cry and reminisce along with them. I heard several members of the audience exclaiming at different points that Firth's observations were spot on and just like their own families.

Last time I reviewed the musical, I wondered about its ability to transcend the intimacy of a theatre like the Studio, but the lighting and design team have managed to make the production fill the stage, despite, for the most part, using the same multi-levelled staging as in the earlier version - creative use of furniture and lighting allows the domestic setting to expand, whilst the larger stage affords room for the live band to appear onstage alongside the cast.

When I saw the musical in 2013, I had some reservations about the score. I would like a little more variety in the songs, but their charms won me over more successfully this time, partly because the larger stage affords more theatricality in their performance, something Rachel Lumberg (Sian) and Bill Champion (Steve) in particular get to exploit in their solo numbers.

Whilst the story is somewhat predictable, and one of the key plot threads (about Abu Dhabi) dropped with no explanation, the dynamics between the characters, the observational humour, and the effervescent performances of the cast, make this an enjoyable night out that is likely to please a wide audience.



They say that they don’t write ‘em like they used to. That’s true. Modern musicals are different. Some are better. This Is My Family is a brilliant example of just such a show.

Penned by Tim Firth, author of Neville’s Island, Calendar Girls and Our House, is an engaging, truthful look at family life. What makes this such a remarkable piece of theatre is that the family captured in this bittersweet portrait is not remarkable – they are every family. They are us.

Firth is not interested in caricatures or clichéd situations. Each member of the family is lovingly and carefully drawn and the scenes capture real scenes from daily life that we can all identify with.

Tim Firth is a master observational comedy and now he has created an observational musical. What makes this such a genuine treat is the way that he has woven the music into the narrative so it feels like a play but is virtually sung through.

Dialogue and lyrics overlap, music rises and falls as it changes from dominant melody to subtle underscore. The entire thing emerges as a glorious musical tapestry.

Director Daniel Evans has done a cracking job at keeping the action moving and keeping the focus on the relationships pin-sharp. But equally importantly he doesn’t miss an opportunity to extract as many laughs as he can from the trials and tribulations of our alter-egos up on stage.

He is helped in this by a first-rate cast who all deliver, truthful performances, never once straying into the over-the-top world of the Broadway showstopper. Instead we get a quieter, more insightful, certainly more intimate world which we can empathise with.

Although this is very much an ensemble show, our focus falls on the wonderfully charismatic Evelyn Hoskins, who plays the 13 year old Nicky. We see this family through her eyes.
She starts the show alone on stage singing that telling opening line: “This Is My Family…”

Nicky has just won a writing competition in which she had to describe her family. Her reward? An all-expenses paid family holiday.

Does she want to go on safari, visit the Far East, lay on a sun-soaked beach? No she and her folks head off for a soggy camping holiday in the New Forest.

That’s all you need to know. The show is best experienced without any knowledge of what is coming next. Like life it should unfold before you. Hoskins co-stars are all equally real. Bill Champion plays Steve the Dad, Clare Burt is Yvonne the Mum, a loving pair who are starting to get worn down by the grind of daily life and are, perhaps, starting to take each other for granted, Rachel Lumberg is Yvonne’s sister Sian, who, instead of opting for long-term monogamy, runs through a series of relationships which look exciting on the surface but are obviously not as fulfilling as she would have you believe, Terence Keeley plays Matt, Nicky’s uncommunicative older brother, he has one of the most moving journeys of all, and Marjorie Yates is touching as Steve’s Mum May, who is starting to become a little forgetful.

This is a musical that feels like a play. It’s fiction that echoes real-life and it translates into one of the most enjoyable, most entertaining evening’s you will have at the theatre. This is my show of the year.


This Is My Family: Tim's first musical

A brand new musical comedy

Book and music by Tim Firth
Directed by Daniel Evans
Designed by Richard Kent
Musical Direction and Arrangement by Caroline Humphris
Lighting Design by David Plater
Sound Design by Nick Greenhill

Produced by Sheffield Theatres
Premiered at Sheffield Studio Theatre 19 June 2013

Best Musical 2013 UK Theatre Awards
Siân Phillips won The Best Supporting Performance.




The Play

THIS IS MY FAMILY centres on a teenager who enters a writing competition to win a holiday for her dysfunctional family. Is there any place on earth she could take them that might make a difference? 

Close relatives. Dream holiday. Total nightmare.

Imagine you entered a magazine competition to describe your family.

Imagine you came first and won a dream holiday for the lot of you, anywhere in the world.

Then imagine you’re thirteen and what you’d written was a load of lies ‘cause actually you feel your family is on the verge of splitting up.

Where is the one place on earth you could take them that might make a difference?

Sian Philips as May and Evelyn Hoskins as Nicky


The Cast


The Cast:

Yvonne - Clare Burt
Steve - Bill Champion
Nicky - Evelyn Hoskins
Matt - Terence Keeley
Sian - Rachel Lumberg
May - Sian Phillips

"His (Tim Firth's) songs are delightfully conversational and his jokes are poetically musical..."


Rehearsal photographs
Evelyn Hoskins as Nicky in THIS IS MY FAMILY Rachel Lumberg as Sian in THIS IS MY FAMILY
Clare Burt as Yvonne, Bill Champion as Steve and Evelyn Hoskins as Nicky in THIS IS MY FAMILY
Sian Philips as May Bill Champlion as Steve

"This is enchanting: sweet as a nut, funny, truthful, glorying in grumpy family love."



Tim Firth and Daniel Evans on THIS IS MY FAMILY

The Crucible Theatre, Sheffield, has a great reputation for large-scale productions of musicals, but This is My Family (which opens later this month) is certainly not one of them. Director Daniel Evans emphasises the importance of the intimate production style in the Studio and writer/composer Tim Firth (of Calendar Girls fame) regards keeping the characters and plot within fairly strict limits as essential to its success:

"It's a play about a family. The main character is a 13-year-old girl and her competition entry starts the whole story off. I sort of fell in love with her because she had a certain spirit about her and I thought, ‘The whole story is going to be told by this girl.' We see the family from her perspective and this meant the whole massive scale that can overwhelm you when you're writing a musical just disappears because we can only see what she sees. Gradually this story defined its own rules because, once I had the family, as soon as I tried to introduce a character outside the family, it all took a nose-dive. There could only ever be six characters, the family, in this play."

The girl's competition-winning entry about her family tells of her idealised family, not the squabbling one she sees every day, and the prize is a dream holiday for her, her truculent 17-year-old brother, mother, father, aunt and grandmother. So the focus is simply on a family taking a holiday together: as Tim says, you can expand the orchestra if you like (it's a five-piece band at Sheffield), but don't go beyond those six characters.

The genesis of This is My Family comes from Tim's plan to write a comedy about a disastrous camping holiday, but it seems it took on a life of its own:

"In the first scene I wrote the character came on stage and she sort of sang the opening lines and I wasn't expecting that. It seemed natural for her to sing this line, so I thought, ‘I'll just go with it.' The story seemed to tell itself most naturally through songs.

"I wrote the first act, then borrowed the rehearsal room where we were rehearsing the Calendar Girls tour and organised a little workshop myself about three years ago. Then I came up here and sat with Daniel on the stage of the Lyceum, just me and him and a bottle of water and a piano. I didn't tell him anything about the story, just sang all six parts to him in that huge empty theatre. And he said he'd like to hear the second act and I came back three or months later and did the same thing again."

Or, as Daniel Evans puts it, "Within minutes I knew we had to do it. It's a potent combination of beautiful melodies, hilarious dialogue and incredibly warm subject matter presented with great affection and humour. It's the sort of family we all recognise. It's not an unhappy family – there's love there – but they've just lost their way and there's this 13-year-old girl who's trying desperately to hold it all together."

Daniel's production configures the Studio with a thrust stage ("like a mini-Crucible") and, remarkably, features three of the actors who first workshopped the play with Tim Firth three years ago: Bill Champion as dad, Rachel Lumberg as his over-loud sister-in-law and Sian Phillips as grandma, described in some publicity as "loveable". As for the music, both Daniel and Tim stress the folk elements in it, nothing so complex as to obscure the fast-moving comedy of the text – and certainly no reliance on grandiose musical settings or blockbuster effects. As Tim says:

"The musicals I admire most are those which are robust enough to need nothing but the characters and the story and the songs."



Musical take on meaning of modern family

A successful playwright and the author of hit movie Calendar Girls, Tim Firth has set himself another challenge. Yvette Huddleston spoke to him about his new musical.

“I have a love hate relationship with musical theatre,” says Tim Firth probably best known as the author of the film and stage versions of the hugely popular and phenomenally successful Calendar Girls. “I love certain musicals and find others hard to sit through, but I had always mulled over the idea of writing one.”

Firth is currently working with Sheffield Theatres where later this month the Crucible Studio will host the world premiere of his new musical This is My Family, with artistic director Daniel Evans at the helm.

Since taking on the role of artistic director at Sheffield, Evans – an accomplished musical theatre actor in his own right – has been something of a champion of the musical form. He starred in the theatre’s well received 2011 production of Stephen Sondheim’s Company and directed last year’s Christmas show My Fair Lady with Dominic West as Professor Higgins.
Firth says that Sheffield was suggested to him as a possible venue by the producer of Calendar Girls. “So without ever having worked at the theatre before, I got on a train and came to meet Daniel Evans,” he says. “I sat him down on the stage and, without him knowing anything about the idea, I played him the first act myself on the piano and played all the parts. At the end he said ‘do you want me to commission it?’ and I said ‘I just want to know if you are interested enough to see the second act.’”

Evans was interested so Firth went away and wrote the second act, came back to give Evans another one-man presentation of the second half and the piece was commissioned.
This is My Family tells the story of what happens when an ordinary family – mum, dad, teenage children, grandmother and aunt – go on a ‘holiday of a lifetime’ won by daughter Nicky. The idea has an interesting genesis – Firth already had a “quite complicated” idea for a musical which he abandoned after a frustrating meeting discussing it with a producer in London.
“Afterwards I said to my agent ‘I’m going to spend the rest of my life explaining to people what it isn’t; I should just write a musical about a family going on holiday together...’ I believe in things that come out of nowhere.”

He was originally going to develop the idea as a play focussing on the comic potential of holidaying with teenagers and says he didn’t know at that stage what direction it would take until he began to draw the central characters.

“I had the character of the 13-year-old daughter and she came on stage and said ‘Ok this is my family’ and she started to sing and I went from there,” says Firth. “It developed into a musical that asks the question ‘what is the point of family?’ in our modern age, when most families are under pressure to split up or move apart if things start to go wrong. We are in the habit today of thinking that if things aren’t working, we just move on and start again; I didn’t set out to write that, I set out to write about a group of people in a tent.”

This is not Firth’s first involvement with the musical form – a decade ago he wrote the script for Our House which featured music and lyrics by Madness. The production went on to win an Olivier Award for best new musical in 2003. However, with This is My Family, Firth has been responsible for creating the entire show – writing all the dialogue, music and lyrics himself, which is rare. “The thing that comes first is the story,” he explains. “And there was a feeling as I was writing the text that – here is a point where people in their hearts would sing. It is usually a moment that is moving or funny. As long as I kept telling myself it was just a comedy where sometimes people sing rather than thinking I was writing a musical, then that was less daunting and I kept running with it.”

Music was very definitely Firth’s first love. As a child and teenager, growing up in Cheshire, he spent most of his time entering music competitions and writing songs. Then just before going away to Cambridge to read English, he enrolled on an Arvon course at Lumb Bank near Hebden Bridge. The tutor was Willy Russell and it changed his life – he decided to become a writer. “I think sometimes you have to be shocked into making decisions,” he says. “If I had thought about being a playwright I would never have done it.”

He is happy that the collaboration with Sheffield has allowed him to combine his two great passions. “What’s been great is that the piece completely dictated its own terms,” he says. “Because it was all written as a comedy, whenever I strayed into it becoming a more conventional musical I stopped because it was not right for the story – it felt arch and wrong.”
Firth says that his approach to writing has always been to follow his instinct and to avoid planning or strategising. “The less you give yourself time to think and the more you write from the heart, the better,” he says. “I have never had a mission. When I work the mission emerges out of the comedy.”

It certainly paid dividends with Calendar Girls when he was brought in to save a film script that wasn’t working. “I wrote with great freedom; I just thought ‘I will base it on my mum and her friends’,” he says. “The area I was most interested in was the group comedy. When I developed it for the stage, that was the most rewarding – it was much easier to achieve that on stage than on film. There is something very special about comedy in the theatre – when it’s good and people are laughing, it’s the best it can be.”

Yorkshire Post


Tim Firth unveils musical This Is My Family

Sulky teenagers, stressed parents, overbearing in-laws - writer Tim Firth, who penned Calendar Girls, is singing the praises of the modern British family in a new musical comedy.
Thirteen-year-old Nicky dreams of having the perfect family. In an attempt to win an idyllic holiday, she writes a competition entry about her happy and harmonious household.
Except in reality it is not very happy and harmonious at all.

"They're not dysfunctional, but they're a normal family that's fallen into tramlines, emotionally and spiritually, and have their own problems," Firth says. "Nothing I hope any family in the country wouldn't recognise to some degree."

Nicky's family fortunes unfold in Firth's new musical This Is My Family, which opens at the Sheffield Crucible on Wednesday.

Firth, known for writing the screen and stage versions of Calendar Girls, the Madness musical Our House and the film Kinky Boots, says he thought it would be funny to base a comedy on "disastrous holidays that I can remember from my childhood".

"That's where I started off," he says.

"But what it's evolved into, I think, is something about family and about what family means.

What the value of it is, what the point of it is in an age when 50% of the family in any kid's class will be of a different structure - there will be parents who have gone apart and remarried.

"None of that I particularly intended."

Nicky - who is actually played by 25-year old Evelyn Hoskins - comes to realise that her clan, which includes her mum, dad, brother, aunt and grandmother, is in real danger of breaking up. So she tries to bring them back together.

Firth describes the story as "optimistic". As befits a feelgood comedy, it could come across as rose-tinted and idealistic.

The writer says: "There is this sense [in society] of, what is the point of families keeping together in a world which is increasingly telling you that, if you're not happy, you erase and start again? Get out, don't put up with second best.

Tim Firth's other credits include the TV drama All Quiet on the Preston Front. "There is a danger of couples forgetting what brought them together in the first place and jumping ship more quickly than they possibly need to.

"It's not for a moment suggesting that all families stay together - that would be unfair and unhelpful.

"But there is a sense within the story that this is a family that could have done that [broken up], but actually what they needed to do was to look inside for what was wrong."

The audience sees the family through Nicky's eyes. From the moment Firth wrote her first line - "OK, so this is my family" - he decided it would sound better if it was sung, and so the show became a musical.

Clare Burt plays mum Yvonne, Bill Champion is dad Steve and grandmother May is played by West End veteran Sian Phillips.

It is a member of the lesser-spotted breed of new British musicals that are not based on existing films, books or band back catalogues. As such, it is a tough sell and is starting out in the Crucible's cosy 400-capacity studio.

"Getting people to take a risk on coming to see a musical now is almost unheard of," Firth says. "We don't have that culture in this country.

"Normally they've been based on something people know. It's a movie or a back catalogue. There's something that removes the risk, and with this there isn't anything that removes the risk.

"This is a new story they've never heard of from a writer who's never really written a musical before in a studio space, so it's triple scary.

"The problem is that a lot of the time, a new musical, and especially one in a studio, people may feel that it's an experimental, discordant, scary new music thing. Which of course this show isn't.

"This show is very, very simple and I hope as accessible as a straightforward comedy. It just happens to take flight with music."

If This Is My Family does well in the studio, it may graduate to larger theatres. If it does not, it will not.

To illustrate the chasm between brand new musicals and adaptations, a stage version of Kinky Boots is currently sweeping all before it on Broadway, recently winning six Tony Awards. (Although it is questionable how many American punters have seen the original 2005 British film, for which Firth co-wrote the script.)

Firth has not yet seen that musical. "It's very strange," he says. "It's rather like having an adopted child growing up in another country. I'm not quite sure how much of him or her I will recognise when it returns.

"I went online and saw one of the song titles and thought, I'm sure I wrote that line. But I'm very proud that it's had this other life and it's great that they've made it a success because there are a lot of films out there and it's lovely for them to have seen it.

"And actually, more people know about the movie now than six months ago."

This Is My Family has a long way to go. The writer admits that there are "huge elements" of his own family in its characters. So will the Firths be going on a family outing to the show's opening night?

"Do you know what, we were going to be," he replies. "But one of the kids said, 'Actually, can I go to Milly's party?' So she will come on another night. That's what families are like."

BBC.co.uk – Ian Youngs – BBC Arts reporter

The Reviews


This Christmas, Daniel Evans, artistic director at Sheffield Theatres, will direct Lionel Bart’s legendary 1960 British musical Oliver! on the main house Crucible stage. It is sure to be a guaranteed box office pleaser and, going by the production of My Fair Lady that he directed there last year, should bring new textures to a deeply familiar show whose every melody is ingrained in the public consciousness.

But first, Evans is doing something even bolder and more challenging - helping to give birth to a brand new British-written musical in the Crucible’s comparatively tiny studio space. Tim Firth, who like Bart, has taken on the triple challenge of providing his own book, music and lyrics, has fashioned an ambitious social comedy with a first act set mostly indoors and a second mostly outdoors to provide an additional design challenge (neatly realised by Richard Kent with an evocative doll’s house of a set that serves as a hanging frame for Act II’s external location).

As with Firth’s Neville’s Island (first seen at Scarborough in 1992 and soon to be revived at Chichester), a set of intimate relationships are put under strain and tested by an outdoor adventure that goes wrong. There’s an inevitable debt to Ayckbourn (who has mentored Firth and commissioned him) in its compassionate portrait of family relationships and the links between three generations portrayed here. But Firth supports it with his own music that switches seamlessly between speech and song. His songs are delightfully conversational and his jokes are poetically musical. With 13-year-old Nicky (Evelyn Hoskins) as narrator and guide to the story of the family and the holiday she wins, we meet her 17-year-old brother Matt (Terence Keeley); her father, newly turned 40 (Bill Campion); mother Yvonne (Clare Burt); grandmother May (Sian Phillips) and aunt Sian (Rachel Lumberg).

The musical, by turns jaunty and reflective, is warmly inflected and buoyed up by a tunefully terrific original score. Its reprised musical motifs provide an anchor of familiarity as they return (sometimes, in the case of the recurring melody provided for Sian Phillips’s character, perhaps too often), but there’s such wit and overriding warmth that it also provides an enveloping charm.

Daniel Evans harnesses the evocative shifts of mood and melody in this sincere, touching show that is beautifully played throughout, both onstage and beside it (with Caroline Humphris leading an impeccable band of five). Evelyn Hoskins is an enchanting revelation as our narrator, providing a genuine heart to a show that is full of it.

But it is unfair to single anyone out. Theatre, of course, provides a parallel family for many of us, and this show grants us intimate access to a family full of old friends like Burt, Campion, Lumberg and the glorious veteran Sian Phillips, all whom I’ve seen in many shows, and new ones (as well as Hoskins, there’s also terrific work from Terence Keeley as her brother).

Tim Firth has, in every sense, scored a popular triumph. If it ultimately lacks the defining universal punch of Blood Brothers, there’s a bite and brilliance about it that could translate this into a major staple of the regional circuit.



This is enchanting: sweet as a nut, funny, truthful, glorying in grumpy family love. It was written by Tim Firth (of Calendar Girls), was commissioned and is lovingly directed by Daniel Evans, and its characters are deliberately unexceptional: Dad turning 40, prone to over-ambitious DIY and unwise sports; his aged mother, May, moving into dementia (and into the crowded home); Mum folding laundry and calming rows; divorced Auntie Sian; a sullen Goth son. And, at its heart as narrator, the sweetly sane 13-year-old daughter Nicky. She has won a holiday competition and rashly opts for a campsite where her parents met as teenagers.

They could be sitcom-Simpsons people in their clever multilayered dolls-house set, and indeed the jokes are excellent. But somehow, without fuss or formality, Firth made it into a musical so threaded with recitative and informal fragments of song as to be almost operatic.

If at times the music seems repetitive, its subtlety and lyrical purpose makes you welcome back each theme: Nicky’s triumphant or frustrated “This is my fa-milee!”, old May’s fragments of hymn about a light burning on the moor and the mist that rises like her own confusion. The comedy is elevated by the almost casual songs, with strings, accordion and keyboard at the stage’s side. It becomes a celebration of the splendours and sorrows of any house, on any street.

Evelyn Hoskins is terrific as Nicky, convincingly childlike and singing like a bird. Terence Keeley grunts beautifully as the son stumping in with: “I’ve just married Rachel in a Druidic handfasting, so I’ve got a new family.” To which his father Steve (Bill Champion) retorts: “Wrapping damp leather round your wrists in a forest with a candle in a goat’s skull is not marriage.” He and Mum Yvonne (Clare Burt) are perfect, Rachel Lumberg hilarious as the sister-in-law. Her instructive sung lecture on sex with new men compared to changing your car deserves immortality. And Granny May, infinitely touching, is the great Siân Phillips.

What could be schlocky never is, because the music carries too real an emotion and unsignalled jokes prevent it. Old May, grumpily sharing a bedroom with Nicky, asks when her bedtime is and the child retorts: “Fifteen minutes later with each birthday.  I go at half-past nine. So you probably go some time next March.” As for the “Hamsterdam” tale, it has exactly the quality of any good family’s rueful legends. I defy you not to melt.



Anyone who’s ever had a family, ie just about everyone, will find something to relate to Tim Firth’s cheery, chirpy new musical comedy.

The creator of the film Calendar Girls applies a similar feel-good factor to this slight but engaging tale.

Delightful 13-year-old Nicky, moody teen brother Matt, and her 40-something mum and dad are hardly the dysfunctional family suggested by the pre-performance blurb. Rather they’re a lovely bunch of recognisable, very normal people at differing, sometime clashing phases of their lives, and dealing with its various vicissitudes with humour and warmth.

In fact it’s the warmth emanating from the small stage that is this production’s greatest strength. This Is My Family might be a touch soft-centred and at times sentimental for some tastes but it’s also very charming – and simply impossible to dislike.

What’s clever is the way that Firth doesn’t stop and start the narrative for a song. To a tight, live on-stage accompaniment, the cast ably switch from speaking to singing with natural ease.

And of course it has the wonderful Sian Phillips as May, a sparky 80-year-old grandma in the early stages of dementia. Phillips supplies the pathos and has a host of memorable lines, not the least when she sings in that rasping drawl: “Love is what’s left when you’ve sucked off all the chocolate and are left with the nut...”

Evelyn Hoskins’ Nicky is sweet and lovable without being sickly, and Terence Keeley’s grunting adolescent boy Matt is hilarious.

Bill Champion makes bumbling dad Steve deeply likeable, while Clare Burt’s Yvonne is a wistful middle-aged mum wondering where her youth went. Rachel Lumberg as her larger-than-life sister Sian completes a first-rate line-up.

Director Daniel Evans has barely put a foot wrong during his Crucible tenure and surely has another hit on his hands.



Playwright and composer Tim Firth has emerged as inheritor of a British musical tradition laid down by Lionel Bart and Willy Russell. Director Daniel Evans meanwhile, is being seriously talked about as the next artistic director of the National Theatre.

The prospect of these two big names producing a new musical in the intimate confines of the Crucible Studio was an exciting one even if the subject matter – an unsuccessful family holiday - seemed a little lacking in grandeur.

At times, during the first act it did seem a bit of a high wire endeavour trying to wring the necessary drama out of the mundane domesticity of mid-life crisis and teenage angst. And yet as the performance continued it was impossible not to be drawn into the ups and downs of family life leaving many in the audience alternating between helpless laughter and real tears.

Firth’s previous works include the hugely popular Our House and Calendar Girls. This latest offering is a Sondheimesque exploration into the space between people who love each other but who, due to the ravages everyday life and the eroding passage of time, struggle to show it.

It is also very funny.

Thirteen year-old Nicky leads proceedings, taking her family on a disastrous camping trip after winning a competition for a free holiday anywhere in the word. She rejects the lure of the exotic in return for returning her parents to the storm-lashed site where their teenage love – both gauche and beautiful - was first declared and sealed in a biscuit box before being buried under a tree.

Coming along for the ride is lovelorn Emo, brother Matt, increasingly forgetful grandmother May (played by theatrical grand dame Sian Phillips) and aunty Sian who delivers much of the comic muscle to proceedings.

This is an unashamedly feelgood and sentimental production which flicks all the right switches. The entire cast is spectacularly good bringing actorly gravity to their parts whilst skilfully squeezing the many laughs out of the libretto.  True there are no real show stoppers but it would defy nature not to be humming the leitmotif for several days afterwards.

There may well be a demographic – teenage to pre-parenthood, perhaps- for whom the obvious charms of this musical might fail. For the rest of us it just left the overwhelming urge to go home and give the kids a hug.



Tim Firth is a man who has reached millions, and no doubt made a fortune, with a series of populist hits one might cruelly characterise as artistic near-misses. Whether it’s Sign of the Times, Neville’s Island or that runaway global smash Calendar Girls, much on his CV displays the fabled “common touch” but it’s hardly the stuff of startling originality.

Now, though, he has penned a musical that doesn’t just make you sit up and listen, it also forces you to appreciate his talents, and fascination with everyman topics, with fresh eyes.

Drably called This Is My Family, it might be better served by “Our House”, had that title not already been taken by the Madness song and spin-off musical which Firth ingeniously stitched together a decade ago. Though far smaller in scale, the piece proves a thrilling advance on that previous outing, beautifully interweaving as it does dialogue with song so that you can hardly see the joins, even as your attention is riveted to the nuts and bolts of ordinary life.

Richard Kent’s set – a full wooden cross-section of a typical home interior – is the perfect backdrop for Firth’s witty dissection of an archetypal family unit facing the double trouble of parental mid-life crises and the growing pains of adolescence.

At first, we seem to be on worryingly bland terrain as Evelyn Hoskins’ chirpy daughter-of-the-house Nicky introduces to us to the instantly familiar figures of her drudgery-bound mum Yvonne (Clare Burt), her bad-with-his-hands dad Steve (Bill Champion), her grouchy-gothy teenage brother Matt (Terence Keeley) and her increasingly dotty and demented grandmother (Sian Phillips). A larger-than-life, still-raunchy aunt called Sian (Rachel Lumberg) is in the mix too. No plot-development looms besides a family holiday, won in a competition, to a place of Nicky’s choosing, with all the ghastliness and friction that usually entails.

Very swiftly, though, the evening’s verve, good humour and poignant veracity takes hold. The show is at once simple and sophisticated, catchy and clever. Director Daniel Evans, alert to every nuance, brings out the Sondheim-esque flavours of the score and the distinct personalities of each of the players. If the characters are borderline clichés, they’re aware they’ve become so and are fighting back against the loss of identity, love and youthful hope.

As fire-lanterns ascend the theatre on a closing note of hard-won optimism, new horizons beckon for the family and great promise does too for Firth’s middle years.


Tim Firth's first play, 1992's Neville's Island, showed four men stranded in the Lake District during a disastrous team-building exercise. This new musical comedy, for which Firth is composer, lyricist and author, is based on a similar premise: a family seeking to overcome its fractiousness during a camping holiday. But, this being a musical, there is a foreknowledge, everything will work out happily – as indeed it does in this wittily engaging show.

Firth filters the action through the eyes of 13-year-old Nicky, who wins a holiday competition by pretending to have an ideal family. In reality, her dad, Steve, is a home handyman who emotionally neglects his wife, Yvonne. Meanwhile Nicky's brother, Matt, is so deeply hooked on his girlfriend he barely deigns to speak to anyone else. On top of that, Steve's elderly mum, the devout May, comes to stay after nearly burning herself to death.

Mike Leigh's Nuts in May depicted the hazards of life under canvas better than anyone before or since; and, having shown a family on the verge of falling apart, Firth puts it together again a bit too easily. But, in its seamless mixture of song and speech, the show is formally inventive, and Firth creates genuinely funny characters without patronising them. Best of all is the venerable May, played by the peerless Siân Phillips, who combines religious conviction with erotic memories. Rachel Lumberg, as Yvonne's louche sister, also adds to the show's gaiety with her anatomical exploration of the idea that "sex is like a safari park".

Daniel Evans's production skilfully allows the songs to seem part of an extended conversation, and there is good work from Bill Champion and Clare Burt, who lend Steve and Yvonne the frayed quality of a long-married couple, as well as from Evelyn Hoskins's Nicky and Terence Keeley as her gothic sibling. A feelgood show that captures the tensions in the nuclear family without exploding the concept, I suspect Firth's likable musical will have a long life.


To follow....




arrowScripts, CDs and DVDs of Tim Firth's work are available.

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