WI nudity proves an eye-opener for Carl

Angi KennedyOne of the few men in Calendar Girls is Norfolk's Carl Prekopp. He told Angi Kennedy that there's no time for shyness in this show that is about so much more than just nudity.Calendar Girls show details on the Theatre Royal websiteAngi Kennedy

'It's an incredible and exposing thing to be doing - in more than one way,' says Norfolk actor Carl Prekopp, of the bare-all actresses he shares the stage with in Calendar Girls.

Carl plays Lawrence, the photographer who takes the nude pictures of the feisty Yorkshire WI women for their famous calendar, and it has been an eye-opening experience for the former Aylsham High and Paston College student!

'I don't know who was more embarrassed at first, because they are very formidable women in terms of their calibre and profile,' laughs Carl. 'It is fantastic to work alongside them. They are very giving - no one's ego gets in the way.

'Lynda [Bellingham] was terrific, for instance. At one of the rehearsals she took off her top to break the tension. Everyone knew that they had to do it at some point, so she wanted to just get on with it and get it all going. There was only me and the director in the rehearsals then, so it was a bit strange at first!'

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But in the months of touring the sell-out show around the country, Carl has long got over any bashfulness when the likes of Gaynor Faye, Patricia Hodge and Sian Philips shed their clothes.

'My character is the porter who wheels John about at the hospital and also happens to be a keen amateur photographer,' he explains. 'So when the girls have this idea that they are going to do the calendar but don't know who they can ask to take the pictures, it falls to me.

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'They have grown to know Lawrence at the hospital, but when he turns up at the hall to take the pictures he is completely overwhelmed by these WI women who are suggesting that they are going to take off their clothes!

'The photoshoot is fantastically choreographed,' he adds. 'It is a quite energetic piece for me because I am doing the photos in very quick succession - one with cakes, one behind the knitting needles and so on, until we get to the December picture where the girls are all together in their Christmas hats.'

There seems to be a bit of a theme going in Carl's recent career. Before the sell-out Calendar Girls tour, he was working with Daniel Radcliffe in his famous nude role in the West End production of Equus, and before that he played alongside Mackenzie Crook in the light-hearted British film I Want Candy about a porn movie.

The naked link has not been intentional, chuckles Carl, who now lives in south-east London. He has been passionate about acting since he first took to the stage at the Studio Theatre at the Theatre Royal in Norwich when he was just 11. Now in his late 20s, Carl has a wealth of experience behind him, including some 150 radio dramas plus stage roes in the UK and abroad.

His close links with Norfolk, where he grew up and his parents still live, have seen him working with Eastern Angles, notably in The Bone Harvest and David Copperfield, and The Actors Company in Sexual Perversity in Chicago at Norwich Playhouse last year.

But Calendar Girls has been on a far different scale, with the first four-month tour last year taking the production to 1,000 to 2,000-seater theatres across the north of England and Scotland.

In the show, Carl also takes a second role. He says: 'I also play another photographer, Liam, who represents what life in the profession is like; the cynical side of it, where there isn't that sense of fun or creativity. Suddenly the reality hits home that this is not what they were after.

'It is very funny but also extremely sad, not just because of what happens to the husband, but also how it affects the women's relationships with each other.

'I think it is better than the film, because it keeps it much more grounded in England, so you get a tighter sense of the speed that this calendar took off and the changes going on within the group of women.

'Tim Firth, the writer, has an incredible knack of setting up original moments of such emotion and then bursting them with humour. You get a wonderful balance of comedy and tragedy. I love to see the audience afterwards and see how they have been affected by it - we have had some very good responses.'

Calendar Girls show details on the Theatre Royal website

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