One of the stars of Gary Barlow and Tim Firth's musical imagining of Calendar Girls has opened up about the show as it stopped in Darlington this week on its UK tour.

Tanya Franks, best known for her role as Rainie Cross on BBC soap EastEnders has joined the cast of her first-ever musical in her established theatre career after performing in a production of Shakespeare's Othello in 2022. 

Based on the true story of a women's institute group that decided to raise money for Blood Cancer UK following the death of a spouse, Franks takes on the role of protagonist Annie on the tour which will soon stop in Hull and York.

The Northern Echo: Tanya Franks.Tanya Franks. (Image: NORTHERN ECHO)

Before heading on stage at the Darlington Hippodrome for their third performance of the show on Wednesday, November 22, Tanya spoke to The Northern Echo and opened up about the raw and emotional production and what it means for her career.

Tanya explained: “It is a very heartfelt story about a group of women who did pose nude for a calendar to raise money for Blood Cancer UK because one of the women’s institute ladies had lost her husband to that illness.

“That was how they raised money – by doing that calendar. Now, that happened 25 years ago in 1998 and so this is that story that many have already seen in film so they will know it’s a take on the real-life ladies.

“But, it’s very much looking at how grief can pull people together and through that adversity can come huge rays of hope, a future, comradery and kindness. It has a huge heart.”

Despite the production being her first-ever professional musical production, Tanya admitted that accepting the role was a decision she never thought she would have to make.

She said: “Getting the role was totally unexpected – but I did audition for it. I have never done a professional musical before so this is my first one.

“This was just completely out of the blue. In my head, I thought that it was just such fun auditioning for it without wondering if I would get it or not.

“Then, of course, I got it! For me, it’s been wonderful embracing this singing voice that I haven’t had a chance to really utilise.”

Despite being most well-known for her 382-episode stint on EastEnders and other roles in dramas Vera and Broadchurch, Franks did star in productions for 14 years before moving into television.

The Northern Echo: Tanya Franks.Tanya Franks. (Image: NORTHERN ECHO)

For her, getting to embrace her theatre roots has been an enjoyable experience.

She explained: “In the space of a few months from finishing Othello and then going straight into a musical – it could not be more of the opposite.

“It is a wonderful challenge for me, and definitely taps into another side of me as a performer.

“This year has been a gift, theatre wise, my work has been dominated by theatre and it has been lovely.”

After opening in September, the cast still has a long leg ahead of them as their final performance will be in Norwich in April of next year.

But, Tanya is already impressed with the show's reception - especially from Darlington's audience.


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She said: “So far, the tour has been fabulous! We just get such a wonderful reception from the audience with such enthusiastic responses.

“You really feel the tide moving between the audience and performers in this show. Tuesday’s show was brilliant in Darlington, the audience was incredible!”

To catch the final performance of Calendar Girls at the Darlington Hippodrome this evening, click here.