THE true story of an unlikely band of modern-day Lady Godivas who shed inhibitions to raise money for charity has already inspired a hit film and a much-performed play and now, the man who wrote both, Tim Firth, has collaborated with old friend and popular music legend Gary Barlow to create the musical.

It received a fully justified hugely warm reception on its opening night in Newcastle and its creators have honed a piece which has you smiling widely through tears of sadness. It also tears up the recipe for a musical, revealing Barlow’s true talent and ambitious assuredness in writing for the stage.

The sizeable cast features a range of well-known faces – quite a feat for a touring show, including Ruth Madoc, Fern Britton (who gets to keep her clothes on), Sara Crowe and Denise Welch. Anna-Jane Casey is fab as Annie, the wife-then-widow of the ‘Sunflower’ man and gives a hugely relatable, emotional performance. Similarly, her best mate Chris is played with warmth and integrity by Rebecca Storm and they have the audience sniffling, softly, in the palms of their hands.

The songs are great and varied, reflecting the stories of the various women, from the heart-breaking Kilimanjaro, Annie’s modern-day elegy about ‘getting through the next five minutes, endlessy’ to the bluesy, jazzy ‘Who Wants a Silent Night?’ by lone parent Cora (Karen Dunbar). My only reservation with the sound is in the orchestration – I would have loved more brass and a less-insipid quality of keyboard sound, but the melodies themselves are lovely.

The major kit-off scene is handled well and is welcomed with a warm, supportive reception from the audience. This latest incarnation of Calendar Girls is a must-see for late-summer blooms everywhere.

n Till Saturday, September 29. For tickets telephone 08448 11 21 21 or go to

Sarah Scott