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A Belly Full review at the Mill at Sonning – ‘underpowered writing, engaging performances’

A Belly Full at the Mill at Sonning. Photo: Andreas Lambis
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A Belly Full started life as a screenplay by Canada-based authors Marcia Kash and Mary Colin Chisholm. It failed to capture the attention of the intended producers but the Mill at Sonning’s artistic director Sally Hughes clocked its potential and suggested a stage adaptation for the UK.

In the basement of a church hall, a disparate group of women meet up for belly dancing classes. Each of them face different challenges in life but they soon bond and resolve to perform in fundraiser for a local charity.

So far, so formulaic. Falling somewhere between Calendar Girls and Stepping Out, Kash and Colin Chisholm’s script lacks both the guts and the character development of either. Themes of independence, friendship and body image are touched upon but never fully explored, and despite some fine, naturalistic dialogue, there are too few laughs along the way. There’s no sense of danger and when things do get tricky, the saccharine resolution is fairly difficult to stomach.

Being so close to the script, Kash’s direction is fairly sound and though some of the characters are underwritten or, at best, clichés, the performances are thoughtful and engaging. Lesley Harcourt and Sarah Edwardson as best friends Marnie and Jane give the play its emotional centre, with Edwardson particularly effective as the serial care-giver with avoidance issues.

The belly dancing choreographed by Lena Palmer doesn’t quite have the impact of the final scenes of Stepping Out but thankfully Natalie Titchener’s costumes have enough colour and movement to make it work.

Guys and Dolls review at Mill at Sonning – ‘bursting with energy and invention’

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Belly dancing drama that, despite some good performances, is let down by an underpowered, mawkish script