EDINBURGH'S Festival Theatre has been hosting the Scottish Premiere of the new musical, Calendar Girls, writes the times theatre critic Kerry Black.

It is hard to believe that it was 1999 when a plucky bunch of women from a rural Yorkshire village decided to strip naked and pose for a calendar to raise money for a couch for the relatives room of their local hospital following the untimely death of one of their husbands, John Baker.

Although nude calendars are nothing new, the fact which brought them fame was that they were all middle aged members of the local Women's Institute (WI), with each photograph being artfully posed against typical WI arts and crafts like home baking, floral art etc.

In 2003, the film of Calendar Girls was released, with a screenplay by Tim Firth, followed by a play of the same name (which has previously toured to the Festival Theatre) and now we have a big, brassy musical penned by Firth and fellow Yorkshireman, Gary Barlow!

People love Calendar Girls! It’s a story of hope against adversity, of courage and the power of ordinary people to turn tragedy into hope, but it’s also completely hilarious!

Calendar Girls is truly an ensemble show and what a stellar cast of Girls they are! I was surprised to see what an excellent actress Fern Britton is as the imperious Marie, while Denise Welch played the wickedly blowsy Celia who admitted “She’s had A Little Work Done”, Sara Crowe, played the apparently perfect WI star scone baker, whose dark secret was revealed in the hilariously touching “My Russian Friend And I”.

The glorious Ruth Madoc, who I saw in the Calendar Girls play many years ago, played feisty Jessie, highlighting the inherent ageism even amongst other women. Scottish actress Karen Dunbar, played Cora, a vicar’s daughter and single mum, with great verve.

The two main characters were played by Anna Jane Casey (Annie), who I last saw tap dancing in Mack and Mabel and Rebecca Storm (Chris). They both have years of experience as West End leading ladies and their brilliant vocals and acting added to the emotion of the whole evening.

This isn’t a glamorous show, it’s all wellies and body warmers. It’s a show with a huge heart and when they reached the infamous photo shoot scene, cellulite and all, the audience were almost breathless with laughter and respect! While the women took the lead roles, there was a very strong supporting cast, particularly the three youngsters, Danny Howker, Tyler Dobbs and Isabel Caswell.

John left Annie sunflower seeds and their resplendent blooms have became the symbol of the show. Even better they continue to raise funds for Blood Cancer and it was brilliant to see Anna-Jane Casey shaking her charity bucket after the performance.

So if you don’t give a nip and tuck whether you are size 16 going on 17, go and see this glorious celebration of the strength of women and ultimately their families too.

Calendar Girls is at The Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, nightly until the weekend.