IF you go down to a local theatre anywhere in the country over the next few months, you certainly will be in for a big surprise.
Wherever you go at the moment, it seems you can’t move for women of a certain age getting their kit off and baring all on stage.
But don’t worry - the nation hasn’t been overcome by an addiction to striptease, its all good, honest clean fun in the shape of countless stage productions of the smash hit Calendar Girls.
The rights to the heartwarming tale about a group of Women’s Institute women who go nude for a charity calendar have been released to amateur theatre groups for 18 months - and supposedly more than 500 groups across the country are set to tackle the production in the weeks ahead, setting a new world record for the most number of performances of a play.
If you don’t know the Calendar Girls story, you must have been living in a cave for the last decade. The play is based on the true story of members of Rylstone WI in North Yorkshire who, wanting to remember the husand of one of the group after losing his battle against cancer, dare to bare in a fundraising calendar with only teacups and buns and other mumsy WI props to protect their modesty.
The calendar became an unexpected smash hit across the globe, with news crews, television and reporters and photographers descending on the girls for their stories. The story was even turned into a Hollywood smash starring Helen Mirren and Julie Walters.
Now local ladies from Penzance to Inverness are daring to bare - with more flesh on show than Prince Harry’s photo album.
Ice Productions are among the first to bring it to the Doncaster stage - and there were plenty of of bums on seats (although not bare ones!) at its run at the Civic.
For husbands, sons, daughters, friends, relatives, colleagues will be seeing the ladyfolk in their lives in a whole new light - and getting a cheeky glimpse of bits of them they probably never knew existed!
Leader of the pack Chris (Trish Lampard) shone as the strong-willed driving force in a story that carefully balances moments of comic farce alongside beautifully scripted tear-jerking scenes that had some of the audience sniffing into their tissues.
But the largely female crowd were whooping with raucous delight at the show-stopping antics of dowdy Ruth (Armthorpe Shaw Wood Primary School teaching assistant Lynne Piper) and Karen Powell who delivered, a well, let’s say a cheeky performance as ballsy Cora.
Kerry Shillam sparkled as “bigger buns” Celia with Andrea Lomas (Jessie) and Annie (Wendy Hernon) also receiving extra loud cheers for whipping off their bras on stage.
One wonders if the the prop vodka bottle the cast swig from in one particular scene actually had a drop of the real hard stuff in to give them a drop of dutch courage!
But its not all girls, girls, girls. Richard Caile delivered a sterling performance as John, whose death breathed new life into the women and WI - delicately delivering touches of humour against some moving scenes.
And its not all about being nude (never naked) either. Some of the best performances came from Lampard and Hernon in tense moments as friendships are put to the test as the success of the calendar spirals out of control.
Needless to say, its one of those shows where the audience knows what’s coming - and its rare to see real gasps of shock and amazement on the theatre stage, but that’s exactly what the Civic got as the roof lifted off - along with the clothes.
This is a truly heart-warming comic tale that forms the ideal round-off to a great British summer. And you’ll never look at cream buns in the same light ever again!
* Darren Burke