The 2024 cast of Calendar Girls: The Musical - Photo: Jack Merriman

Be prepared for rawness in this heartfelt musical – and not just because of the nudity at the climax of this stage version of the well-known 2003 film.

When one of their members’ husband dies, a Women’s Institute group in Yorkshire decides to create a charity fundraising calendar with a twist – it’s filled with risqué pictures of themselves, with just some strategically placed props to preserve their modesty.

This updated production has been reworked by Take That’s Gary Barlow and Tim Firth, who wrote the 2003 film and play on which the musical is based.

It’s a true ensemble production, with the emotionally-wrenching story taking centre stage as it affects each of the women differently – from the grieving widow to her wild best friend, to the dutiful and traditional head of the WI to the apparently buttoned-up teacher who surprises everyone by stripping off.

The cast is led by Laurie Brett as Annie, wife of John (Colin R Campbell) – who is quickly established as a stalwart supporter of the WI and hence a devastating loss when he succumbs to blood cancer.

She is supported by the rest of the WI clan, particularly by childhood friend Chris (Samantha Seager), music teacher Cora (Honeysuckle Weeks), golf wife Celia (Helen Pearson), and schoolteacher Jessie (Lyn Paul).

Each takes a turn with a musical number, although this production is more about the story than big song and dance numbers. The lyrics and book are extremely funny, laying bare the women’s relationships and exploring the staid stereotypes of what it means to be a older woman.

When we finally get to the photo shoot we are totally with the middle-aged models as they nervously prepare for their portraits, with spontaneous bursts of applause greeting each shot.

The show carefully balances some total laugh out loud moments with more sensitive passages, and it is no surprise the opening night earned the cast a standing ovation.

The original real-life calendar inspired dozens of copycat calendars and together with subsequent efforts has raised more than £3m for leukaemia and lymphoma charity Blood Cancer UK, with the musical continuing to supporting the same cause.

It would be worth supporting it just for that – the fact that it is a thoroughly enjoyable show, packed with both punchlines and pathos, make it doubly worth seeing.