Comedy favourite still has plenty of naked ambition

Calendar Girls tour 2011''L to R: Camilla Dallerup, Kathryn Rooney, Sue Holderness, Ruth Madoc, Helen Fraser, Lesley Joseph and Kacey Ainsworth  with Deena Payne at the front

Calendar Girls tour 2011''L to R: Camilla Dallerup, Kathryn Rooney, Sue Holderness, Ruth Madoc, Helen Fraser, Lesley Joseph and Kacey Ainsworth with Deena Payne at the front

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BIRDS of a Feather star Lesley Joseph never had a moment’s hesitation in agreeing to join the cast of Calendar Girls with all that it entails.

“The thing about the nudity on stage is that it is done subtly,” she says. “We the performers all see each other with no clothes on but we are all women and we are actresses who are used to spending a lot of time in various states of undress. It would have been very different for the members of the Women’s Institute.

“When they approached me, I read the script and thought about it for about five minutes,” she continues. “It’s one of those shows which came at the right place and the right time. It entertains and it moves people . It’s an interesting piece, it makes people howl with laughter and then turns on a sixpence and brings tears to your eye.”

Joseph is Chris, the character played by Helen Mirren in the film, the best friend of Annie whose husband died of cancer and inspired the calendar. “There’s a lot of banter between Annie and Chris.”

The actress enjoyed the film and also went to see the stage play when her friend, Anita Dobson, was in it.

“Each new production is true to the story every time and the new cast that comes in get to meet the original women and it’s a privilege to be invited,” she says.

The cast on the current tour also comprises Sue Holderness from Only Fools and Horses, Hi-De-Hi’s Ruth Madoc, Danish dancer Camilla Dallerup from Strictly Come Dancing, Helen Fraser from Bad Girls, Emmerdale’s Deena Payne, EastEnder Kacey Ainsworth and Kathryn Rooney from the West End production.

“There’s not a bad egg in the company, everyone gets on and we go out together a couple of times a week,” declares Joseph. “It’s an extraordinary experience, more so than anything I have done before.”

The actress is still associated with the role of interfering neighbour Dorien Green on the sitcom, Birds of a Feather, with Pauline Quirke and Linda Robson

“Birds of a Feather was a huge part of my life,” she says. “It ran for nine years and we did 103 episodes and had an audience of 20 million people.”

Did it result in typecasting afterwards? “I have always been lucky, Dorien was a character everyone loved. I have done comedy and lots of serious roles in straight plays. But I am not just someone who acts and I have done a lot of presenting on TV.”

And there are plans to do a stage version of Birds of a Feather next year. “I don’t know whether it will pick up the story where we left off or whether it will be the characters now, all I know is that Pauline and Linda have both said yes, and that’s good enough for me.”

Calendar Girls opens at the Lyceum on Tuesday and runs for two weeks.