I’ll be blunt. I enjoy the prospect of nudity, male or female I am equal opportunities, a bit too much. I think the warnings that appear on websites or via an usher’s mouth make it feel like it is a very naughty private play that the Lord Chamberlain might burst in on at any minute. Is nudity just a gimmick to get (clothed) bottoms on seats or is it often crucial to the narrative.
The recent cancellation of The Curing Room by David Ian Lee about soviet soldiers captured and stripped naked, a state they remain in throughout the play, got me considering other nudity on stage in London at the moment. It feels like you cannot look up from your gin and tonic and not see a naked person what with Cleansed (National Theatre) and Mrs Henderson Presents (Noel Coward) currently in the West End. I recently signed up as a “Supporting Artiste” and was asked would I get naked for a part. The answer is no and I think that is the root of my fascination with actors that take on roles which see them naked night after night in relatively small spaces. My immediate reaction to hearing that highly respected actors like Michelle Terry and Emma Williams were getting completely nude was “Why?” when actually I should have asked “Well, why not?” Nudity is crucial to both of their productions yet it still seems extremely brave.
Actors get naked on screen all the time, even a respected actor like Mark Rylance did full front nudity in Intimacy (2001) but on the stage it feels really personal and for some audience members a bit embarrassing “I didn’t know where to look!” I was told in a twitter conversation about the recent The Judas Kiss revival with Rupert Everett and Freddie Fox. It featured the gorgeous and rather well endowed Tom Colley walking around stage, completely nude. That sounds really indulgent but it felt right for the story of Oscar Wilde, a man ultimately bought down by his quest for sexual pleasure and it came from the pen of David Hare-a playwright not known for adding nudity for no reason.
Richard Eyre’s Little Eyolf recently added a nude scene where there wasn’t one in the text. The majority of the audience would probably have been unaware as it worked so well but I did see it described as “gratuitous” but when there are some very dodgy casting calls, just see @ProResting on twitter for some examples. I think a professional director would not add a nude scene unless it was absolutely necessary. I think theatre audiences expect any nudity to have context, or they are just keen to see their favourite actor naked…