Monday, 21 March 2011

The Naked Truth, Assembly Hall Theatre, Royal Tunbridge Wells

The Naked Truth
Assembly Hall Theatre
Royal Tunbridge Wells
21st March 2011

Cast (Programme listed order)

Claire King - Rita
Maureen Nolan - Sarah
Michelle Heaton - Gabby
Leanne Jones - Bev
Julie Buckfield - Tricia
Alison Young - Faith

"If you liked Calendar Girls & Stepping Out then you'll LOVE the Naked Truth"
Not my words but those of the Manchester Evening News and for me this quote is spot on.

It's a  very apt comparison to make. The cancer themed background story bears more than a striking resemblance to that of Calendar Girls (which was of course a true story). In addition the characters' desire to do something different to liven up their troubled lives, in this case pole-dancing, is very similar to the characters in Stepping Out wanting to be great dancers.

Stepping out I enjoyed. Calendar Girls was OK but it really didn't rock my boat.

The Naked Truth?

Absolutely brilliant! Very funny,  yet continually thought provoking and above all very well acted with an amazing cast.

What a line up Claire King (ex Emmerdale) Leanne Jones (West End Hairspray) Michelle Heaton (Liberty X) Julie Buckfield (Hollyoaks, Grange Hill) Maureen Nolan (The Nolan Sisters) and Alison Young.

Actress Alison Young supporting Great Ormond Street Hospital for children
Hold on.......... Alison who?

Well I doubt if many will have heard of Alison but believe me you will remember her after seeing The Naked Truth. I feel for her a little because she's not on the leaflet cover or the programme cover yet I think she is likely to be one of the main talking points when the show ends.

Her character, Faith, is the scatty, ditzy one of the group. In the low moments, as Sarah deals with her cancer diagnosis, clever writing ensures Faith is normally the one who lightens a sad time with her innocently naive misinterpretations of the English language and limited sexual knowledge.

On her CV Alison has actually done a lot of theatre and TV work and directed a play. She has also played Faith on 2 previous tours of the Naked Truth. I'm not surprised. This lovely young lady is perfectly suited to this most hilarious of roles. But come on producers if Alison does another tour stick her on the cover! She's just as important as the other 5 actresses! This does bug me slightly when they stick the better known names on a cover but leave off a central , important, character just because he or she doesn't have the same level of fame!

Actress Claire King supporting Great Ormond Street Hospital for children How about our more well known names?

Claire King - Playing Rita, the victim of a troubled marriage, Claire is great in this role as a "bit of a mouthy cow". Boy this fine and well known actress has kept herself fit!! You'll enjoy her performance throughout but when it comes to the finale with the pole-dance routine she is really impressive too.

Maureen Nolan - Sarah is our cancer victim. Let's be honest , although she is very modest about it, I think Maureen is very brave to play such a role with a subject so close to her heart for personal family reasons. But this personal experience of confronting cancer Maureen admits has helped her in this role and she is playing Sarah in her own determined way. The result is a very believable portrayal of how a middle aged woman may cope with breast cancer. She demonstrates effectively both the emotional lows yet maintaining a strong willpower to get through each and every day.
Actress and singer Maureen Nolan supporting Great Ormond Street Hospital for children Leanne Jones - She's big, bubbly, warm and extremely lovable, both on stage and off. As the large lady, Bev, aspiring to pole dance she is clearly the obvious candidate for a spot of bitchy bullying and I'll come to this later. There are laughs throughout with her pole dance 'skills' but Bev is also a strong character with a complicated love life. Leanne delivers the great performance that would be expected from a West End star.

Michelle Heaton - "here we go...", many will say, "a singer trying her hand at acting". Often it doesn't work. But what many may not know though was that friendly Michelle was acting long before her Liberty X and Popstars days. With appearances on Heartbeat, Byker Grove and Crimewatch under her belt she had a good start in front of the camera.

West End Star Leanne Jones supporting Great Ormond Street Hospital for childrenHer desire was always to go back to her first love, acting, and here she is fulfilling that ambition. Gabby is the pole-dancing teacher, and of course Gabby has her own personal troubles. But whilst dealing with those she has to try and get 5 women with varying characters and physical abilities to pole-dance convincingly for a cancer fund raising performance. I thought she played the part really well and as one of the minority of blokes in a female dominated audience watching this very fit young lady do her finale pole-dance routine was just the icing on the cake.
Julie Buckfield. I've seen both Julie and her twin sister Claire so many times now it is often difficult to recall who was in which show. But here we have Julie who has a stack of theatrical credits to her name together with appearances in TV shows like Hollyoaks, Grange Hill, London's Burning, The Bill and Casualty. In her character as Tricia she is the insensitive bully, gloating on her perfect life, perfect man and picking on the apparent flaws she sees in others - including Bev and her weight. But is Tricia's life really so great? Julie tells Tricia's story flawlessly and like Michelle she is a pole-dancing diva! She is to the pole what her sister was to the ice, an expert! Perhaps a new combined venture for them beckons  pole-dancing-on-ice?

Actress Julie Buckfield supporting Great Ormond Street Hospital for children I should just point something out here. Ladies for goodness sake take your fella to this show! This is in no way a male-bashing-production. It is also not planned to have a female only audience. It is a very funny and very thought provoking play about a disease that affects the lives of all it touches. Women do not go through cancer on their own they need the support and love of those around them. So get your old man or partner off his backside and take him to a show which he will laugh at a lot and he may just learn something about the consequences of breast cancer! Besides aren't men supposed to appreciate pole-dancing? I certainly did, especially the performance the girls put on at the end.

All 6 actresses are extremely professional and this was demonstrated admirably in the second half whilst theatre staff ejected  rowdy audience members from the auditorium. I'm glad they stepped in quickly as eyes were beginning to deviate from the stage and as we all tried to spot the idiots who had drunk one too many in the interval and those around the group went "Shhhhhhhhh!" in a vain attempt to shut them up.

Actress and Singer Michelle Heaton supporting Great Ormond Street Hospital for children After the pole-dancing finale this Breast Cancer Care awareness/fund raising show received a massive loud reception from this Tunbridge Wells crowd. This was fully deserved for a fabulous show which deals with such a serious subject in such a light hearted, yet at the same time very sensitive, way.

The appreciation did not end there though. The charity buckets came out and I can honestly say that I have been to many a charity fundraiser at theatres and this is the most money I have ever seen going in to buckets as the audience leaves. Whether this was appreciation for a super show or simply a contribution for such a worthy cause who cares? As long as money keeps going in those buckets we may soon have the hope that a cure for breast cancer is imminent!

Finally the pictures on this review are possible because, with thanks to the Julie Buckfield and her agent for the arrangement, I was able to do one of my Starcards signing in aid of Great Ormond Street Hospital for children before this show.

Clicking any image and viewing the image description will give you information on how you can support another worthy cause by bidding on future auctions of these autographed charity playing cards.

Thank you so much to Claire, Leanne, Michelle, Julie, Maureen and Alison for taking part in this especially when you are raising funds for Breast Cancer Care.

So people if you are wondering whether The Naked Truth is any good it's actually far better than good. So go and see it, take your other half and take some extra money to buy some fun fund raising souvenirs and to fill those all important buckets !!!
The cast of the Naked Truth supporting Great Ormond Street Hospital for children
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