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Courageous Masque ladies prepare to bare all for bittersweet comedy

Posted onPosted on 27th Feb

Six women in a Mansfield amateur dramatics company are plucking up courage to ‘bare all’ as they stage a production of the worldwide hit Calendar Girls.

Just like the original WI members whose story of a charity calendar sparked a global phenomenon, they are doing it to raise money and awareness for those who suffer from blood cancer.

The true-life tale of the women from Knappley WI in Yorkshire, who took on the institute’s traditionalists to do a nude calendar following the death of a member’s husband, went on to become a hit movie and stage show.

Overcoming their initial reserve, the friends dropped their dressing gowns, their modesty spared only by artfully-placed cakes, knitting, and flower arrangements.

In April, Mansfield’s Masque Productions will be presenting the hit comedy Calendar Girls at the Palace Theatre in the town, from Wednesday 17th to Saturday, 20th April.

Among those revealing all will be Kay Thomason Vardy, who plays the leading role of florist Chris Harper (Helen Mirren in the film of the same name who comes up with the idea of the calendar. The other five leading roles are being taken by Suzy Jane (Celia), Jan Hodgetts (Jessie), Elizabeth Wolden (Annie), Rachel Fletcher (Ruth), and Paula McCrory (Cora),

Kay admitted there would be nerves for all the six characters as they prepared to reveal all, but said they were determined to make the production fun and maintain Masque’s reputation for staging shows of a high standard.

“With the added hype around the ‘nudity’ that is a prominent theme of the show, the six key characters do have quite a lot of pressure to cope with — from their own judgemental sense of self-image, their projected sense of self-image, and then normal pre-show butterflies,” Kay said.

“Having said that, once we have done it in the dress rehearsals in front of each other, and again on opening night, we will all hopefully have learnt to care less and simply take our dressing room attitudes — where no one tends to give a damn who sees what — out on stage with us.

“We want to be confident and comfortable with that specific scene and not become cocky and crude. It will be great fun once we get in the flow of it and an audience can respond how they want to.”

Mum-of-two Kay, who grew up in Sutton and now lives in Mansfield, joined Masque almost two years ago — and has tackled the issue of nudity on stage before.

“At the age of 16 I was involved with a class-devised physical theatre exam piece called Woman’s Domain, exploring all aspects of feminine life,” she explained.

“I was the only one brave enough to show the sexist concept of deciding what to wear. I had to change in full view of the examiners, teachers, and other spectators — and I got an A grade, so it was the right choice!”

The WI ladies are convinced in the play to do the calendar based on it not being seen as naked photographs where details would be used, but simply as ‘nude’ poses where there is some suggestion and the viewers’ interpretation of events creates the effect of the overall image.

Kay added: “With plenty of cakes, teapots, and woven goods obstructing the view, slightly, the end of the first act is as tasteful as a bunch of friends stripping off together in front of a professional photographer for a good cause can be!”

There is far more to the story than the nude photoshoot scene, where strategically-placed props preserve the WI members’ modesty. It is just a small part of the play about the women’s journey and relationships.

Other Masque cast members include: Liz Brennan (Marie), Ann Colgan (Lady Cravenshire), Justine Wells (Brenda Hulse), Simon Brickell (John), Brian Brooks (Rod), Thomas Slack (Lawrence), Lynn Roberts (Elaine), and Steven Ratcliffe (Liam).

Director Andrew Wolden said: “There wasn’t any apprehension from the cast about some members taking off their clothes because the art of the play’s nudity lies in what is withheld, which can best be described as ‘fabulous concealment’.”

There was no shortage of Masque actresses wanting to tackle the main roles, despite any possible shyness around the need to remove clothing, Andrew added.

“No persuasion was needed because the script by Tim Firth is so beautifully written,” he said. “All the characters are people everyone can identify with.

“One company member did say the casting announcement came as a shock to some due to our courage in casting new and recently-new members in significant roles.

“There is no doubt that this production of Calendar Girls will entertain and move the audience.”

Kay is one of those recently-new Masque members, who has already enjoyed being part of the society’s productions of The Producers and Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella.

She joked: “To get into Masque there is an audition process to assess whether you can hold a tune. For my audition slot I did the song Loud from Matilda the Musical and sang at one of my daughter’s dolls, as Miss Honey. The director thought I was completely bonkers, which clearly distracted him from my singing and he let me into the group!”

While studying drama in the community at Bishop Grosseteste University College, Lincoln, Kay twice performed in Lincoln Cathedral — and as a student was hired to do street theatre at market days across Lincolnshire.

Her theatre experience also includes appearing at Edinburgh Fringe Festival for a full week using three different performances.

Over the past 13 years Kay has been chair of a local community drama group, ran a theatre company, and been part of Sutton Centre Stage Group, Write Track, Mansfield Hospitals Theatre Troupe, Blindeye, Mansfield Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society, and Sutton’s New Cross Community Choir ,as well as Masque.

She added: “It is this busy style of lifethat has given me many tools I feel I need to portray different characters, which are not me, on stage.

“From this variety of experience I feel you cannot put a price on the value of entertainment, escapism, and education gained through drama for an audience and actor alike. The performing arts are so important to develop skills and understanding in many, if not all, aspects of life.”

Masque has been performing famous shows and musicals at the Palace Theatre for more than 50 years — supporting charities at the same time. Calendar Girls will continue the community theme with the company raising money and awareness of blood cancer charities throughout its four-day run at the Palace.

To buy tickets for Calendar Girls, call the Box Office on 01623 463133 or go to