Michele Dotrice, next to Gary Barlow and with the rest of the cast of The Girls.
SHE is perhaps best known for playing Frank Spencer’s long suffering wife Betty in the hit 1970s BBC TV show Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em. But now Michele Dotrice is about to take on a role which she admits has taken her on a new adventure.
The role in question is Jessie, one of the ladies in Tim Firth and Gary Barlow’s musical version of the Calendar Girls story.
The Girls is inspired by the true story of a group of ladies from the Rhylstone Women’s Institute who decided to raise money to buy a sofa for a hospital in memory of one of their husbands after he died of non-Hodgkins Lymphona.
To do so they appeared nude in a calendar with only a selection of jam, buns, knitting and a piano to hide their modesty.
Their story inspired an award-winning film starring Helen Mirren and Julie Walters as well as a stage play.
Five years in the making, the musical shows life in the ladies’ Yorkshire village, how it all happened, the effect on their families and how they achieved something extraordinary. To date they have raised almost £5million for charity Bloodwise and they are still actively fundraising.
But in a chat during rehearsals at a West London studio, Michele tells me it’s not the inevitable stripping off that worries her, rather the singing.
“I do feel I’m stepping out of my comfort zone in a way,” she smiles. “I’ve no idea why I was asked to be part of this as I’m not a natural singer, so I’m more nervous about that than anything else - even the going naked bit!
“I’m also surrounded by all these amazing actresses and their lovely voices and who have done lots of musical theatre before, something that I’ve never done, so it is a bit nerve-wracking. I feel as though I’m on the starting blocks with this.”
Despite this Michele says she leapt at the chance to be in the production which opens at the Phoenix Theatre on January 28.
It is a co-production by Take That’s Gary Barlow and writer and director Tim Firth who have spent the past five years working on it.
And during the rehearsal period that I was invited to attend, it’s clear they are still honing and refining it.
“I’ve been involved in this for the past three years and it’s been a lot of fun,” says Michele. “I did a read through initially and then took part in a series of workshops with different casts over the following year.
“Then we went to Burnsall in Yorkshire where it all began for these wonderful women and where we put on a version in the village hall - it was packed out and such a wonderful experience.
“It was so valuable for me to know the root of the show, the place it all happened - it was inspiring and moving.
“I couldn’t then do the stage versions that were staged at the Lowry and in Leeds as I was doing other things so I am delighted to have been asked back now, for the London show.”
Michele is no stranger to the heartache of losing a loved one, having lost her husband Edward Woodward in 2009. She says it is this that gives her an emotional attachment to the show and the story, and one of the reasons she wanted to be part of it.
“I lost my husband and it’s a terribly difficult time to lose someone you love,” she says. “The show and the songs Gary has created are deeply moving and emotional and I cry every time - in fact it affects every single one of us - but it’s not depressing.
“In fact this show is passionate and full of energy and it has been beautifully written by Tim. The characters are so beautifully observed, they are not just carbon copies of the original ladies, although I do look a bit like Beryl who my character is based on,” she laughs.
“The music roots it in Yorkshire - you can feel that completely with what Gary has done. It’s not just light poppy stuff, there is a real range to it and despite the sadness it is the most wonderful and liberating feel good show. It’s also terribly funny and there is a lot of laughter.
“It’s a real privilege because we take the audience on the most incredible journey. I think we have all been touched in some way so there is a sense of solidarity.
“Cancer is such a cruel disease and I think everyone appreciates what those women did and continue to do - it’s quite incredible and the amount of money they have raised is just astonishing. It’s really quite inspiring and I’m in awe of their determination and courage.
“That’s why I’m doing the show really.
“As for the stripping off, there is no point in worrying with this body,” she chuckles. “But they are going to need considerably bigger buns!”
The Girls is on at the Phoenix Theatre, Charing Cross Road, between Saturday January 28 and Saturday, April 22. Tickets from £29.50. Visit www.thegirlsmusical.com or call the box office on 0844 871 7629 for full listings.