The casting directors for the Australian stage adaptation of the hit 2003 UK film Calendar Girls must have had quite a task on their hands: find half-a-dozen respected actresses of ‘a certain age’, and convince them to disrobe, night after night, in front of a live audience.
Somehow, they’ve pulled it off, as the show features an all-star cast of fabulous females including Rhonda Burchmore, Jean Kittson, Amanda Muggleton and Cornelia Frances.
Frances is one of the few cast members not to nude up for the audience, playing as she does the stern, disapproving head of the Women’s Institute the brave ladies all belong to (although she did get her kit off for the production’s publicity pictures).
“It’s a relief to me that I don’t have to disrobe, and I’m guessing it will be for the audience as well!” she told Sydney Star Observer.
“My character is absolutely appalled that the women in her group would bare themselves for this charity calendar. There’s a huge rivalry between their Women’s Institute and the institute of the next village, and she always wants to come out on top, so she sees this nude calendar as a threat to that.”
Theatrical perves banking on a glimpse or two of Burchmore-bosom will be disappointed, insisted Frances — Calendar Girls just isn’t that sort of show.
“Everything’s done tastefully. Every, shall we say, ‘salient’ piece is covered by a prop. It’s not salacious, it’s not nudey-rudey,” she said.
Maybe not rudey, but the women on stage will be very much nudey (and often just a strong draught or a dropped prop away from a major wardrobe malfunction). It’s a rarity to see older women’s bodies being celebrated in such a public, positive way.
“I know, it’s wonderful, and that’s the only reason I’m sorry my character’s not a part of that celebration. It’s such a beautiful, uplifting, funny story — if there’s nobody crying in the theatre by the end, I’ll be very surprised.”
Of course, while the play’s biggest target audience is women of a similar age to the actresses on stage, there’s no denying that gay audiences have a particular love for grand theatrical dames with a sense of humour.
Frances said she welcomed the queer contingent.
“I hope young and old, gay and straight people come along. I did get quite a gay following from The Weakest Link, actually — I still have gay men come up to me today telling me they loved me in that. You just love a bitchy woman, don’t you?”

info: Calendar Girls plays at the
Theatre Royal till June 13.
Visit www.seecalendargirls.com.au

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