Dave Simpson’s The Naked Truth comes from the same thematic neck of the woods as The Full Monty and Calendar Girls – a feelgood tale of a motley crew who come together to face life’s challenges through collective body positivity. In this case, it’s pole dancing our gang have taken up, each for their own reasons – a breast cancer diagnosis, an abusive husband, lack of confidence around men. It’s a fun, straightforward genre play that needs little elucidation. Of course, some might ask, in this era, what a male playwright has to say about female body image, but the all-female cast and creatives of Quirky Pond, last seen here with the similarly cheeky What The Butler Saw, have taken it up with enthusiasm, so that’s not our call to make.
The play aims for all the emotional soft spots of the aforementioned popular hits, but a little less successfully. Set entirely in the dance studio, it requires the cast of six to be constantly in and out of the room, returning to class with news of whatever has befallen them in the outside world in the meantime. The pole-dancing becomes almost incidental to these dramas, its role in making them feel positive about themselves assumed but not always well conveyed in the script.
It also proves a tricky thing to stage. Producer Yvonne Paterson takes the role as class leader Gabby and pulls off some mighty impressive moves on what looks like a very rickety pole. The others’ pole work is more, shall we say, representational, all the better to avoid serious injury. Prop recycling means the retro wallpaper seen in What The Butler Saw is now the wallpaper in the studio corridor, which appropriately gives the studio a slightly down-at-heel vibe. It’s a strange choice to use parkland sounds to cover scene changes though. It rather suggests something quainter and more pastoral.
Much of the entertainment value, perhaps too much, is derived from Big Bev (Deborah Anderson). She is, in the way of crass stereotypes, the “fat, funny” one, grasping proudly at her extra pounds, boasting of how men like the larger lady, and ridiculing her own dance style: “I look like I’m taking a shite”. Anderson is the star turn in this show, often getting to the tender heart behind Bev’s bravado, but mainly just getting the laughs. In this ensemble piece, she’s almost too effective; some of the subtler characters can’t compete. Ericka Rowan makes a good sidekick though, as the innocent, inexperienced Faith, who gets her own laughs for naive misunderstandings of the others’ sex talk.
Lynne Jamieson (Rita – angry and cynical, with good reason), Louise Brady (Trisha – self-critical and uptight), and Kirsten McClelland (Sarah – quiet and concerned) all take to their parts well, though McClelland has the hardest job playing cancer sufferer Sarah, married with two kids, a character with a lot on her plate and probably written older than McClelland herself. Newcomer to the team, Olivia Taylor, makes a brief cameo as a journalist interviewing Sarah about what has now become a pole-dance show to raise funds for cancer research. Their chat is always candid and sexually revelatory; the nakedness in the title derives from this, rather than the dancing, which stays very decent, although Gabby’s backstory has her working in clubs.
As is the way with these things, none of the traumatic life experiences of these women prevent an uplifting finale, and we’re treated to the gamut of girl power classics from Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves to It’s Raining Men with accompanying routines. There’s clapalong moments and an ovation from some of the more enthusiastic audience members. Quirky Pond can be pleased with this fun Friday night of female empowerment.