No time for a rest for Sheffield Crucible Theatre star Sian Phillips

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Sian Phillips says that she isn’t giving up acting any time soon.

The elegant and charming 80-year-old is in Sheffield to star in Calendar Girls writer Tim Firth’s new play, This Is My Family, which is premiering at the Crucible Studio later this month.

The musical innovatively blends its songs into the action, rather than ending a scene with a tune. It is described as a funny and moving show about the ‘holiday of a lifetime’ that 13-year old-Nicky wins and attempts to use to reunify her charmingly dysfunctional family.

Sian, who plays Nicky’s grandma, says she still loves being on stage: “I was a child actor. I’ve never done anything else apart from school, university and RADA. I was working all the time. It’s my life.”

The star, who was nominated for an Olivier award this year for her role in Cabaret, is a big fan of Tim Firth. They worked together when she was in the original stage cast of Calendar Girls in 2010.

The director is Sheffield Theatres artistic director Daniel Evans. Sian said: “I’ve been wanting to work with Daniel. We are both Welsh-speaking Welsh people. This is the first time that a thing has come up.”

She said she had been keen to work on Calendar Girls because it was going to be a surefire smash hit and has been involved in workshops to develop This Is My Family for 18 months.

She said: “The songs were completely enchanting. The tunes stayed with me and I didn’t even know the story.

“It was something that just stayed with me as I was doing other jobs. I was delighted when they asked me to play it.

“I really like the part. It’s the part of a woman who has got approaching Alzheimer’s. It’s quite funny as well.”

She added: “Tim has this ability where you’re going along laughing about something and suddenly he just breaks your heart when you’re not expecting it.”

Sian described May, who she is playing. “She likes her granddaughter Nicky a lot. She has an abrasive relationship with her daughter-in-law. She adores her son.

“She was a widow very young and brought her family up on her own, so she is used to ruling the roost. Her daughter-in-law Yvonne has a lot to put up with from the generation above and below.”

May is having to come to terms with having Alzheimer’s. Sian said: “What I like about it, it isn’t a heavy tragic thing at all in the play. It’s a fact of life for so many families.

“I really like the fact that Tim’s put it in and the way that he’s dealt with it. It’s not sweet and sentimental.”

Sian, who has visited Sheffield only briefly on tour before, said she is enjoying the chance to explore the city.

“I’ve been to the Graves and Millennium Galleries and walked around the city. I haven’t got the hang of it yet. I’ve got my walking shoes and I’m aiming to do a lot more walking.The Peak District I know already.

“I’m very interested in steel and I’ll be able to learn a bit more about that.”

Sian has been working non-stop for the past 18 months and has more roles lined up.

She is very excited about her next role, taking over the lead from Frances de le Tour in the hit comedy, People. The show is set in a dilapidated stately home in South Yorkshire and Sian will play the reclusive and eccentric lady of the manor who can’t afford its upkeep.

In the play her character is trying to resist her sister’s moves to sign the place over to the National Trust because it will then be full of ‘people’.

She hopes that the arrival of an old flame, who wants to use the house as the backdrop for a porn film, will be the house’s unlikely saviour...

The tour isn’t calling in to Sheffield but it will be well worth catching at Leeds Grand Theatre on November 4 or The Lowry in Salford on November 14.

South Yorkshire audiences were able to see People on screen when the National Theatre beamed it out live via satellite to a worldwide audience earlier this year. I saw it at the Showroom cinema and it was very funny.

Sian starts rehearsing for People a few days after This Is My Family ends its run.

Then there’s no time for a holiday as she’s off to Washington to play Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Earnest. Sian says she works a lot in the USA and even has a ‘green card’ work permit to allow her to do so.

This Is My Family will be at the Crucible Studio from June 19 to July 20. Box office: 0114 249 6000 or go to www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk