NOËL COWARD THEATRE
Nudity that moved first came to London when the American musical Hair opened in 1968. This was immediately followed by Kenneth Tynan’s puerile revue, Oh! Calcutta!, which gave pornography a bad name. The first time actors appeared in the nude in a play was when Diana Rigg and Keith Michell stripped for Abelard and Heloise in 1970. The stage was dark and it was over in seconds. Nobody saw anything. Audiences asked for their money back. Since then nudity has almost become the norm.
But what about 11 middleaged women posing in the nude for a calendar? What will the neighbours think? What will Pirelli think? Will they be worried by the competition? The women, all members of the Women’s Institute in the Yorkshire village of Rylstone, stripped in a good cause to raise money for leukemia research. The calendar was released in April 1999 and immediately sold out. The women never dreamed they would sell 5,000 copies. By the end of the year they had sold 88,000. They had wanted to raise £500. To date they have raised two million pounds.
If you look at the original photographs you realise just how brave the women were. Their ages ranged from 45 to 65. Their story was turned into a feelgood fim by Tim Firth with a cast headed by such glamorous personalities as Helen Mirren and Julie Walters. The fictional film wasn’t that good, but it was popular. The film has now been turned into a feelgood play by Firth with a cast headed by Lynda Billingham, Patricia Hodge and Sian Philips. The fictional play is isn’t that good, either, but it too is popular. The play’s best moment – and the most difficult, far more difficult than on film, where there is editing – is to photograph the nude shoot. Hamish McColl’s production stage-manages it with such good humour that each pose gets a roar of laughter and a round of applause. It’s the use of cups, cream buns, and flower pots to hide the naughty bits which is so amusing. It’s amazing what you can hide with knitting and homemade marmalade and it’s a good curtain for the first act. The only trouble is there is nowhere for the play to go thereafter. The film, in desperation, sent the women off to America, a dreadful anti-climax. The play wisely keeps them in England; but the second act is still an anticlimax.
You may wonder, then, what is the point of the play. There is no point, except for the box-office takings. About £1.7 million was raised at the box office before the show had even opened. Calendar Girls is a play for women (nothing wrong with that) and the women were out in great numbers. The theatre was packed with hardly a man in sight. There are rumours that there will be a ballet, an opera and an ice show.
Whoʼs Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
TRAFALGAR STUDIOS 2
Edward Albee’s bitter play – one of the great American plays of the 20th century – is three hours of marital strife. George and Martha have been married 23 years. He is an unsuccessful professor in the history department of an American university. She is the daughter of the dean. Martha, blousy, brays. George, dowdy, needles. Their vitriolic, self-loathing and relentlessly humiliating confrontations are a gruelling and overwhelming experience; and when the audience is actually in the same room as them, as audiences are in the claustrophobic confines of the smaller venue at the Trafalgar Studios, the experience is doubly nasty. Rarely have I been so uncomfortable. There are fine performances by Michael Kelly and Tracey Childs as the childless couple and also by Mark Farrelly and Louise Kempton as the guests, an ambitious stud and his mousey wife, who are given a terrible time. Strongly recommended to theatregoers with strong stomachs.
Phelim McDermott, artistic director of Improbable, delivers a crude, self-indulgent and illustrated lecture on that old goat, the paunchy Greek god Pan, with the aid of three nymphs. Based on improvisation and personal reminiscences, it is a work-inprogress and not ready for public viewing.