Imagine being told you can have that job you’ve always wanted, but on one condition: you have to go naked. Unlikely to happen if you’re, say, a dentist, or even one of Sir Alan’s hopefuls in “The Apprentice” (unless the viewing figures drop drastically), but as an actor, that’s more or less what I’ve just been told.
Now, I’m as confident and open as the next man, providing the next man is, shall we say, averagely endowed, but I’m just not convinced about nudity on stage. In fact, I’m amazed writers allow it. When a nude performer enters the stage, our interest in the play itself exits through the fire doors. I remember as a student going to see a play a friend of mine was in. We walked into the tiny make-shift theatre-cum-portakabin to find him already lying there naked, face-up on a bed (“face-up” being a euphemism because no-one was looking at his face.) My front row seat meant I was effectively sitting closer to his genitals than my own. Some actors came on and did a lot of shouting and crying, but all I can remember of the evening is his ginger, slightly freckled maleness staring back at me.
I’ve actually gone nude once before. Early in my career, the director of a show I was in asked me to go naked in a crowd scene set in a lunatic asylum. I didn’t think it was strictly necessary so I hummed and hawed. The director insisted, so eventually I agreed to do it as long as he got someone else to go naked as well. This proved to be my undoing. He asked another actor who promptly disrobed at the next rehearsal to reveal that he was, as the proverb goes, hung like a horse. More than that, he was hung like a horse that’s the envy of other horses. Now not only would I have to go naked but I’d worked it so there’d be a comparison on stage, like the 50p piece you get in pictures in science books, only, sadly for me, much, much bigger.
When I finally unveiled at the (un)dress rehearsal, I broke into an instant torrent of sweat that was so bad they had to mop the stage after me, but in the end it wasn’t so bad. Yes, it’s strange that my parents, my friends and loads of strangers all saw me nude – something that normally only happens on your stag night – but at least people remember you (that’s how shallow we actors are).
So I’ll probably go for this naked job. And if you come and see me and are disappointed by aspects of my performance then please remember there are no small parts, only small players.
This article was orginally published in the Sunday Telegraph.