Lisa and the ladies laid bare in Calendar Girls

Appearing in Calendar Girls is nerve-wracking, according to Lisa Riley, but it's more about learning to trust your fellow performers. ABIGAIL SALTMARSH reports.

Many actors leave the world of soap only to wash up in a reality show several years later.

Not so Lisa Riley.

The former Emmerdale star has worked solidly in TV and on stage since stepping away from the role of Mandy Dingle and arrives in Norwich next week with the touring version of Calendar Girls.

'It is fantastic – I have been incredibly busy,' says the 35-year-old who prides herself on her versatility. 'I like making sure I get a good mixture of different kinds of work.

'I am not sure whether I will go back into soap opera again, however. But I would never say never.'

Lisa played Mandy Dingle for six and a half years. During that time, she won the National Television Awards' most popular newcomer gong.

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After leaving, she went on to present ITV's humorous home video show You've Been Framed for four years, taking over from Jeremy Beadle, and raising viewing figures to more than 13 million.

Since then, she has appeared in Fat Friends, The Bill, Holby City and Doctors. Recently she has been seen in new ITV1 detective series Scott and Bailey and is currently back in Waterloo Road, reprising the role of Scout's neglectful mother.

'But I do love the immediate response you get from the audience when you do theatre,' she admits. 'I was touring with Calendar Girls from January to April last year and am thrilled to be back in it again.

'It is a wonderful show and I think it continues to do so well because we love the idea of women coming together in a time of great pain. We have all been there – and so many of us know people who have had or who have cancer at the moment.

'The script is also fantastic. I think it is very different to the film. In some ways it is more poignant and has more of an emphasis on the way women look after each other.'

The true story focuses on a group of women, members of an ordinary Yorkshire Women's Institute group. After one member's husband, John Baker, is diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, they persuade one another to pose naked for a charity calendar in aid of Leukaemia Research.

The 2003 film starred Helen Mirren and Julie Walters, along with Linda Bassett, Annette Crosbie, Celia Imrie, Penelope Wilton and Geraldine James.

Tim Firth's stage version, which arrives at the Theatre Royal in Norwich on Monday, April 2, has also been a hit and has seen a host of big names take the starring roles.

Lisa, who plays Ruth, is joined in this production by Lynda Bellingham, Jan Harvey, Sue Holderness, Camilla Dallerup, Deena Payne, Ruth Madoc and June Watson.

'I wasn't nervous about appearing in a play where I had to take my clothes off,' says Lisa. 'But it was an unknown for me.

'A lot of other actors will go and see a play before they take on a role in it. I am different. I don't like there to be any influences on the way I do it myself.

'So what I did not realise was how much everyone supports each other with the nudity.

'In rehearsals, you don't really take your clothes off but then on stage you have to really trust each other. There are often moments, where you have to hide each other's bits!'

She adds: 'Now I don't even think about it. I have even had my mum and dad in the audience and have still been able to think of it as just something I do.'

Working with the likes of Lynda Bellingham, Jan Harvey and Ruth Madoc has instilled the trust needed, she stresses.

'Lynda and Ruth were there last time, which was great. It is nice being with them again and they are wonderful to work with – but then when other people come in too, it is also really good.

'You learn to trust and work with them too and it brings change. The way you deliver lines might be completely different because of the way they do it and the patterns of their speech.'

Once this run of the show is over, Lisa plans to keep juggling the worlds of stage and TV, and also wants to focus on her own writing.

'I never stop working, and that's the way I like it,' she admits. 'I love acting, and being able to balance big shows with work that is more intimate is great.

'I want to continue with what I am doing. I am not one of those actors that leave a part in a soap opera never to be seen again until they tip up in the jungle.'

? Calendar Girls, Norwich Theatre Royal, April 2-7, �29-�6.50, 01603 630000,