ANNA-Jane Casey has never been one to hold back with her opinions.

The West End star who grew up in Rawtenstall even goes as far as describing herself as 'a gobby northerner' although a giant smile is very rarely far from her face.

But her latest starring role in The Calendar Girls, which comes to the Lowry later this month, has left her in awe of the women from the small women's institute in Yorkshire who inspired the show.

"They started a whole movement," said Anna-Jane of the women who posed nude for an 'alternative' calendar.

"You see these naked calendars all the time now but 20 years ago this was really shocking to see women of a certain age with their clothes off. They really broke the mould. They were prepared to show themselves and put themselves up for ridicule. It was such a brave thing to do at the time."

The original Calendar Girls stripped off to raise funds to provide a sofa for the visitors' lounge in the hospital in memory of the husband of one of the women - Angela Baker - had been treated for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

Their story touched the hearts of many and became the inspiration for a feature film starring Helen Mirren, a stage play and two stage musicals.

The current tour of The Calendar Girls is a re-working of The Girls which came to the Lowry in 2016 and like that show has been written by Tim Firth and features songs by Take That's Gary Barlow.

Anna-Jane, the elder sister of actress and presenter Natalie Casey, plays Annie, the character based on Angela Baker.

"Initially I was up for Cora who is the lady who plays the piano in the film," she said. "But I really wanted to have a go for Annie.My agent said they are really looking for more famous people for that role which I understood.

"But I've known Tim Firth for 15 years and I was dead bold. I told him I know you're seeing me for Cora but I'd like you to see me for Annie so let me do a reading and sing you a song. I managed to change their minds

"It took a couple more interviews but thankfully the part was mine which I'm thrilled about."

Anna-Jane. who has starred in Chicago, Billy Elliot and Stepping Out in the West End. added: "It's a big departure for me because I'm known for doing jazz hands in musicals, for singing and dancing. So to be known be a fully straight actress and a real character is great.

"I don't have to jump into splits in this show so that will be really nice."

Tim Firth and Gary Barlow have worked with original Calendar Girls over the show.

"It is quite bizarre to be playing a character who is based on someone who is alive and well," said Anna-Jane. "I've spoken to Angela several times and she's been to rehearsals which is lovely. I've told her if I'm doing something that feels is really wrong to come and tell me because I want to serve her as a persona and the show itself.

"I'm not trying to do an impression, that would just be daft."

First with the original calendar and then through merchandising both from the film and various stage shows, the Calendar Girls have raised over six million pounds for the charity Bloodwise which looks into leukaemia research. The cast even hold collections at the end of every show as audiences leave the theatre.

"For a group of women who just wanted to buy a new sofa that is quite beautiful," she said. "But let's face it, sadly there is some way in which we are all touched by cancer whether that's personally or a relative or a next door neighbour or just someone we know."

In The Calendar Girls - which also stars TV presenter Fern Britton making her first stage appearance in 30 years, Ruth Madoc, Rebecca Storm and Denise Welch - the cast recreate the famous calendar photoshoot.

"I'm looking forward to having watering cans over my boobs," laughed Anna-Jane. "I'm not sure my children will appreciate that though.

"I think when you are in your twenties and thirties you do think 'no-one wants to see me naked' but when you get past 40 you just don't care. I don't think any of us are worried about taking our clothes off on stage - it'll be more interesting to see the audience reaction. There's a real empowerment to it.

"I think we should celebrate all the bumps and lumps that we have – we've all got them!"

Bringing the show to the Lowry is extra special for Anna-Jane, who has spent much of her career in London.

"I was born in Hope Hospital and my parents still live in Rawtenstall.

"My mum is beside herself," she said. "I think I bought out the Lowry, everybody's coming to see the show."

The show will tour the country until the end of April

"After that? Who knows," said Anna-Jane. "It's such a great show, it could go anywhere. Broadway would be good.

"I think the Americans need to see a group of Northern women with their boobs out!"

n Calendar Girls, the Lowry, Salford Quays, Tuesday, October 30 to Saturday, November 10. Details from 0843 208 6005 or