Calendar casts' naked ambition

CALENDAR GIRL AND A WEST: Theresa Healey, left, pictured here with Robyn Malcolm, will appear in the theatre production of Calendar Girls.
CALENDAR GIRL AND A WEST: Theresa Healey, left, pictured here with Robyn Malcolm, will appear in the theatre production of Calendar Girls.

Usually costumes are made by talented designers to transform an actor into their character.

But for the cast of Auckland Theatre Company's latest production it was a case of no seamstresses required.

Calendar Girls tells the true tale of a group of women from a Yorkshire Women's Institute who sparked a global phenomenon by posing for a nude, yet tasteful, charity calendar.

Actress Alison Quigan says the prospect of shedding her clothes was one she quickly came to terms with.

"Initially it's quite challenging but once it's off, you kind of go 'oh yeah, that's a costume'.  Everyone's got two of this and one of that and you just kind of start to use it as a costume."

Director Colin McColl agreed the mainly female cast soon got to grips with the demands of the story.

"I always treat it like it's just a costume and at the dress rehearsal, that's the time to get the kit off," he says.  

"But these women were somewhat bolder than that. They were all a bit shy to begin with, but by the last days in the rehearsal room, they were quite free with their bodies."

McColl says the script suggests rather than gratuitous nudity, the flashing of the flesh should be just that - like a burlesque dance.

"It should be a tease, so just when you think you're going to see something, two pots of marmalade are put there."

The cast that, along with Quigan, reads like a roll call of our best and brightest actresses:  Theresa Healey, Alison Bruce, Rima Te Wiata, Jennifer Ludlam, Cathy Downes, Hera Dunleavy and Kate-Louise Elliott.

And Quigan says they get on like a house on fire - maybe too much sometimes.

"It's an extraordinary cast and it's been a huge amount of fun.  We've actually had far too much fun. 

"There's been a lot of laugher... Discovering what you can and can't do in terms of nudity is very funny and this is a bunch of women who are extremely funny."

Their funny antics have forced McColl to use some less than traditional directing techniques to motivate the actors.

"I just happened to find some tennis balls and I was throwing them at (them) when they were mucking up because you know, the cast is very, very funny and they will often go off and improvise. 

"So I was trying to keep them focused. Luckily I'm such a lousy aim with a tennis ball that they very rarely reached their targets."

Luckily, Quigan has avoided any long-term bruising and is excited about opening night this Friday.

"It's always great opening a new show.  You can only rehearse so much and then once the audience comes in, then the story can be told.  

"Making people laugh, making people cry - it's a good days work when you've done that."

Calendar Girls opens at Auckland's Civic Theatre on Friday.

Auckland Now