Review: Calendar Girls, Sunderland Empire, until Saturday

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BIG buns and even bigger laughs help to make Calendar Girls a year-round favourite.

Not unusually for this production, the show played to a full house at the Empire last night to a mostly-female audience who were eager to see the famed tale of the WI pin-ups who’ve raised £3m for charity brought to life on stage.

At the helm is the wonderful Lynda Bellingham as feisty Chris, who starts the wheels in motion for a charity calendar that will become a global phenomenon.

She’s backed by a big-name cast including Jennifer Ellison, Bernie Nolan, Lisa Riley, Ruth Madoc, Trudie Goodwin and Danielle Lineker.

Like the groups of friends in the audience, the bond between the on-stage pals is palpable and you feel as though you are in the church hall setting of this Yorkshire WI.

The blokes of the piece manage to hold their own, too, and Joe McGann is superb as Annie’s terminally ill husband, whose death from cancer is the catalyst for the women to bare all for charity.

Though the message of the piece is essentially a poignant one, there’s also some truly comedic moments.

The highlight is inevitably the photo-shoot, which is executed with tongue-in-cheek tease as the women hide their modesty with WI accessories: teapots, knitting, marmalade and buns.

Lisa Riley in particular shines as prudish Ruth, who needs some Dutch courage to dis-robe.

It’s a gem of a scene and it was always going to be difficult to maintain this comic momentum.

Instead, the second half focuses on the fallout and the fallings out caused by the calendar as the WI girls swap tea and crumpets for TV stardom.

The show is a sell-out this week but, mark the date in your calendar, the girls will be back in September.

Katy Wheeler