REVIEW: Women get to grips with confidence issues in The Naked Truth

Fortress Theatre Company presents The Naked Truth
Fortress Theatre Company presents The Naked Truth

The Naked Truth, Fortress Theatre Company, supported by Rhythm & Sole, The Capitol studio, Horsham, June 5-9, raising money for Cancer Research UK

Becoming self-confident isn’t easy.

Fortress Theatre Company presents The Naked Truth

Fortress Theatre Company presents The Naked Truth

It takes discipline, determination and the courage to step outside your comfort zone and open yourself up to potential embarrassment.

And sometimes it involves taking pretty drastic action.

This is certainly the case for five ladies in the sassy comedy drama The Naked Truth.

The frequently hilarious production (which is raising money for Cancer Research UK) is about a group of very different women who decide to try pole-dancing lessons with an optimistic instructor named Gabby.

It looks like they’ve taken on an impossible challenge, but when they get some devastating news the ladies resolve to put on the charity show of their lives.

Each character – Sarah, Bev, Trisha, Rita and Faith – has a unique and complex reason for having a go at pole-dancing but their motivations are all related to self-confidence.

Sarah, played by Tess Kennedy, is looking to get her libido back (and put the spice back into her marriage) after losing a breast to cancer. At first, she appears nervous in a way that feels like an overreaction to her new hobby. However, Tess gradually and sensitively reveals Sarah’s backstory and the tough circumstances that she’s had to endure. It’s an emotionally raw and winning performance. By the end of the play she’s easily the most sympathetic character, finding strength and a lust for life that’s both boisterous and moving.

Bev, played by Hannah Jones, is the most obviously comical character in the show; a ladette who takes pride in her large body and large appetites, especially when it comes to men. It’s the kind of role that could be pretty one-note, but the script also explores Bev’s insecure side and Hannah brings Bev’s anxieties to the surface effectively.

Alicia Marson does something similar as Trisha. Like Bev, Trisha puts on an act to hide her inner fears, constantly bragging about her happy marriage and svelte figure. But, unlike Bev, she acts like she’s just that bit better than other people, condescending to those ‘beneath her’ at first, but eventually letting them see her true vulnerabilities. Alicia is particularly good in Trisha’s panicky moments because she’s able to hint at her character’s unhealthy mental state and convey how weird her obsession with physical perfection is.

Stacey James offers a more down-to-earth performance as Rita, a woman whose disappointing and possibly dangerous marriage has led to a rather cynical attitude. It’s interesting though because Stacey James shows how persistent mounting pressure can start to crack even the strongest mind.

Rita’s polar opposite is Faith, who’s played with wide-eyed naivety by Becca Bracewell. Faith arguably gets more laughs than Bev, but does so because of her complete cluelessness about men, her dorky fashion sense and her fundamental discomfort with being sexy. However, Becca ensures that we always care about Faith, whether she’s expressing astonishment about being chatted up or offering sandwiches to her pole-dancing pals. It’s a satisfying moment for everyone when she finds her own self-confidence.

Finally, there’s the instructor Gabby, played by Megan Evans who has been pole-dancing as a hobby for three years.

Her character is much more together than the other women so Gabby doesn’t display as much inner conflict. Her role is essentially to show the other women what they should be doing on the pole so they can screw it up in variety of ways.

But Megan really gets a chance to shine in the inevitable big dance number at the end and she demonstrates the incredible athleticism and control that pole-dancing demands.

In fact, all the performers do well with the final pole-dancing display, especially when you consider that they only had a couple of months to train.

By the time the sound system plays ‘Sisters Are Doin’ It for Themselves’, the whole audience is clapping and cheering.

They’re also donating generously into the Cancer Research buckets and the Fortress twitter tells me that the current total stands at £1,250.

Overall, the crude humour may not be for everyone but The Naked Truth offers a fun night out.

The show feels like a cross between Steel Magnolias and American Pie, except it’s set in the North of England and we don’t actually see any of the rude bits that the ladies refer to.

It’s largely conversation-driven with the frank and often filthy dialogue getting big laughs as the characters describe their various sexual liaisons and mishaps.

The more slapstick elements get plenty of chuckles too, as the women struggle to understand the basics of pole-dancing.

One criticism is that the plot is very straightforward with a devastating ‘twist’ that’s easy to see coming. A second twist in Act Two is less expected, but feels slightly unnecessary, like the story is trying to cram in extra drama when the stakes are probably high enough.

But it still works and it does, in hindsight, complete two characters’ arcs in a way that makes logical sense.

The simple story also lets the audience focus on the women as their personalities interact and clash in lively and sometimes volatile ways.

It also allows the characters room to breathe as they get to grips with their new hobby and grapple with their various body confidence issues.

Neither of these activities is easy but, as this colourful production shows in its dazzling final scene, it’s worth putting in the effort.

Follow Fortress Theatre Company on Twitter.

Many of the Fortress performers are also members of HAODS. Find out more about this theatre company at www.haods.co.uk.

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