Actors reveal challenges of stage nudity

SPOILER ALERT! Stars of The Judas Kiss talk about stage nudity

Actors have been shedding their clothes on stage for decades. But just what are the challenges of revealing all in front of an audience?

There's been no shortage of nudity in the West End recently with actors going full frontal in plays such as Privates on Parade and The Judas Kiss.

Rupert Everett, who keeps his clothes on as Oscar Wilde in David Hare's The Judas Kiss, feels that the perception of nudity on stage has changed over the years.

Start Quote

"In the old days it used to throw an uneasy frost across an auditorium”

End Quote Rupert Everett on stage nudity

"In the old days it used to throw an uneasy frost across an auditorium," he says, "but these days I think people really enjoy it and we got a lot more bums on seats because of the nudity - bums on seats and bums on stage."

Jack Thorne's new play Mydidae - which opens at Trafalgar Studios this week - presents its nudity in the environment of a fully-plumbed bathroom.

The story focuses on a day in the life of a young couple - played by Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Keir Charles - who spend much of the play sharing a bath.

Keir Charles and Phoebe Waller-Bridge in Mydidae (Photo: Simon Annand) Bath-time: Keir Charles and Phoebe Waller-Bridge in Mydidae

"Jack was commissioned to write a play set in a bathroom so I knew something would be taken off and exposed," says Waller-Bridge during rehearsals. "He is incredibly classy when it comes to nudity, so I felt very safe in it.

"It feels completely essential to the plot, so even though the vain, self-conscious side of me went 'Oh no, I've got to swing my leg over the side of a bath and climb in with no clothes on', it's totally justified by its necessity to the play."

Stage nudity in the headlines

  • Audience members were searched for cameras when Nicole Kidman appeared nude on stage in The Blue Room at the Donmar Warehouse in 1998.
  • Her performance in David Hare's reworking of Arthur Schnitzler's La Ronde was memorably described in The Daily Telegraph as "pure theatrical Viagra".
  • In 2000, Kathleen Turner and Jerry Hall disrobed as middle-aged seductress Mrs Robinson in West End hit The Graduate.
  • Joan Collins was offered the part but turned it down because "she didn't want to take her clothes off".
  • In 2007, Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe went naked as disturbed teenager Alan Strang in the revival of Peter Shaffer's 1973 play Equus at London's Gielgud Theatre and on Broadway.

Having premiered Mydidae - the title is a reference to a type of fly - at the Soho Theatre in December, the two actors know what they are letting themselves in for - even in the more intimate confines of Trafalgar Studios.

"It's very much bathroom nudity not bedroom nudity. It's functional," says Charles.

"I did a play before where it was decided in rehearsals that we would be naked from the waist down - which was weirdly more exposing and felt more vulnerable."

His co-star adds: "We were expecting a lot more guffaws and giggles and awkwardness, but because it's so domesticated and so real the audience feels quite relaxed by that point."

Charles and Waller-Bridge both say drama school helped prepare them for nude scenes.

"It's always in the final year," says Waller-Bridge. "There's so much reverence around it at drama school. There are always a couple of actors who love doing it and others who will never will."

Charles reveals that his drama school experience involved a sauna and a "strategically-held towel".

So how did the pair break the ice during rehearsals for Mydidae?

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Me and Phoebe turned all the lights out, shut all the blinds, took off our clothes and ran around screaming like children”

End Quote Keir Charles on breaking the ice during rehearsals

Charles: "The first time we got naked the director and stage manager went out for a cup of tea and me and Phoebe turned all the lights out, shut all the blinds, took off our clothes and ran around screaming like children."

Waller-Bridge adds: "There were office blocks all around with slightly bemused workers looking right into our rehearsal rooms. By the end of rehearsals we were naked quite a lot of the time - it was just business as usual. I didn't even see Keir as naked."

The actors who went naked in The Judas Kiss had a different approach.

"The whole rehearsal period was completely clothed, which was kind of weird," recalls Tom Colley, whose Italian character Galileo Masconi spends 18 of his 20 minutes of stage-time naked.

The cast members did not strip off until the first technical rehearsal, when the lighting, sound and scene changes are put to the test.

Colley said: "It's about having a bit of trust that what you're doing is artistically good and then having faith in the director and the writer, who are really prominent in the whole rehearsal process. Nothing seemed forced, nothing seemed unnatural."

'Liberating nakedness'

Kirsty Oswald, who plays a hotel maid, also shares an intimate nude scene in the play with actor Ben Hardy.

"The nerves were definitely more there in the beginning," Oswald says, "but as time goes on you just get used to it.

Watch: Theatre stars share their own experiences of on-stage nudity

"It is easier to perform naked in front of 700 people you don't know than friends and family - it's more liberating when you don't know anyone."

Phoebe Waller-Bridge agrees. "You can feel the room come alive when you're doing it. There's a hyper-awareness between you and the audience - and that can be really celebrated."

But the actress has discovered that going nude for a bath scene that relies on hot and cold running water can have its drawbacks.

"There was one night when the taps gave up and I was sitting in this 2in freezing cold puddle," she recalls, with a shiver.

Keir Charles adds: "I stood there thinking I don't want to spend 20 minutes naked in there!"

Mydidae is at Trafalgar Studios until 30 March. The Judas Kiss is at Duke of York's Theatre until 6 April.

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