If there ever was a show that needs a packet of tissues at the ready, it’s Calendar Girls.
With a cast of actresses who have performed the show year upon year, and an audience containing the real Yorkshire Dales “calendar girls” who inspired the play, the emotional rollercoaster hit the stage in Leeds for the last time this week.
Never before have I seen a show so unique that a story of naked bums and boobs concealed by buns and tea cups can reduce men and women to floods of tears.
The story of Angela Baker, (called Annie in the show) and her husband John is delicately tackled in Tim Firth’s touring production at Leeds Grand Theatre.
The heart-wrenching grief plays out in front of us as we see a kind and healthy man deteriorate with cancer and leave his loved ones in shock.
But as soon as I’ve reached for the tissues – and believe me, I am far from the only one – cries of “stand by for her without a g-string!” have the tears quickly turning to roars of laughter.
The inspiring story tells us how a group of quirky and not-so-young – but definitely not too old – ladies get their kit off to make a nude calendar to raise money for the Leeds cancer hospital ward that cared for John.
Co-ordinated by Chris, played by Lynda Bellingham in the role of real calendar girl Trisha Stewart, the project comes together featuring a number of poses “typical” to their Women’s Institute activities – such as knitting and baking. But with the one big difference – in the nude.
Speaking after the show, Lynda told The Guide: “The thing about this cast is that we’ve all done it before, and we’ve all lost someone along the way, as have many people in the audience.
“It is daunting taking your clothes off but it’s such a big part of the play, and they did it for real so you just do it and it’s such good fun.”
The show, which received a standing ovation, is set to be the last professional performance of the show since the real ladies put the calendar together 13 years ago.
After watching the production, real calendar girl Angela said: “It was fantastic, but of course it’s not the first time I’ve seen it. It means such a lot to see it here because this is where John died.
“It’s still a bit surreal looking back, I can’t believe we’ve done what we’ve done. None of us knew what was going to happen – we didn’t do it to be famous it was all for John and his memory.
“John knew what we were doing, and he said we would never do it.
“I’ve had hundreds of letters [from people inspired by the story], when John died I thought my world had ended.
“It’s a story of friendship too, I couldn’t have done it without them.”
The calendar girls set out to raise £1,000 for the hospital that cared for John, but have since raised more than £3m for cancer charities.
Jan Harvey, who plays Annie, said: “I hope I’ve done Angela proud, I do it for her and for John.
“I think one of the great things about the play is that it never lets you indulge for too long.
“Tim Firth doesn’t let you cry for long before he has you laughing again. And I think that’s a great reflection on the people of Yorkshire, they’re people with sentiment but they never indulge.”
Calendar Girls – also starring Strictly Come Dancing’s Camilla Dallerup and former Emmerdale star Lisa Riley – is at Leeds Grand Theatre until Saturday March 31.
To book tickets, which cost £7.50 - £29.50, visit www.leedsgrandtheatre.com or call the box office on 0844 848 2700.