This month Sue Holderness – best known for her comic turn as Marlene in Only Fools and Horses – visits Tunbridge Wells as the star of hit play Calendar Girls. We find out how she’s prepared to give us a stripped down performance.
What attracted you to appearing in Calendar Girls?
I went to see Calendar Girls when it first went into the West End because I had read the amazing reviews and I was keen to see what all the fuss was about. Well, it was an extraordinary evening in the theatre. The play is wildly funny as well as being terribly moving. That night I did think that if I were ever to be offered a role in the play, Annie was the part that I’d most like to tackle. She is the character whose husband dies of Leukaemia, and so carries much of the emotional line in the play.
Did the idea of stripping off on stage scare you?
We were all extremely alarmed about the prospect of removing all our clothes. (The day that we all first met and had to strip off to do the photo shoot for the posters, was the day that my Senior Citizen Rail Card arrived in the post!) Some of us had a go at eating a little less and exercising a little more before we opened, but of course the real Calendar Girls in Yorkshire were not size eight supermodels. They were real women of all shapes and sizes, so that was a pretty good excuse to continue eating the buns and hope that the stage lighting was kind!
Can you tell us about your character?
I play Annie, who is based on the life of WI member Angela Baker. Every year the WI would produce a calendar of local views to raise money for good causes. It had for some time been a jokey idea of Angela and her best friend Tricia (Chris in the play) that one day they should all do a Pirelli-style calendar instead, never thinking that it would actually happen. After the death of Angela’s beloved husband, John, from leukaemia the idea came back to them. They were determined to raise enough money to replace the battered old sofa in the local hospital – so far they have raised more than £3million for leukaemia research. Who wouldn’t want to play a feisty woman like that? It’s such an inspiring story.
Have you ever done any nude work yourself?
In my youth I appeared in many farces and frequently could be seen racing around a stage in just my bra and panties. I was relieved never to be asked to remove the lot… Until 1983 when I appeared in the BBC series The Cleopatras. I spotted there was a ‘topless’ clause in the contract, but was assured that my Cleopatra wouldn’t be removing tops or bottoms. Well, how wrong I was. Inspiration struck the director in rehearsals when he decided my Cleopatra should be discovered in the middle of a passionate romp with a soldier. This required the removal of all my clothes (apart from a tiny flesh-coloured g-string). I persuaded the wardrobe and make-up department to give me a very long thick wig and a golden brown body. Despite that it was all pretty scary until the actual moment and then, of course, the adrenalin kicked in, the character took over and it really wasn’t too bad. Mind you, I didn’t want to watch it!
Calendar Girls can be seen at the Assembly Hall Theatre from Monday October 22 to Saturday October 27. To book call 01892 530 613 / 532 072 or visit www.assemblyhalltheatre.co.uk