Over the years there have been a myriad of theatre shows which have been borne from successful movies; Flashdance, Footloose, Sister Act, Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Kinky Boots to name but a few. Usually they are ‘adapted for stage’ which means recognising the constraints of limited scene changes, streamlining dialogue to keep the pacing fresh or losing the copyright permissions to use original soundtracks, and because of this, many people are left feeling a short changed that they’re not seeing their beloved movie made flesh. The Full Monty bucks this trend completely; the original screen treatment was written by Simon Beaufoy, in fact it was his first screenplay, and it is Simon who has penned this stage production; with it he has retained all the humour, the pathos, the punchlines and the politics that made the original the global smash hit.
The story hasn’t aged at all; due in part to the fact that, despite the bawling hysterics of the hordes of hen parties who regularly attend desperate to catch a glimpse of the naked male form, it is a story about life, love, families and relationships, but also, more sadly, because the economic and political climate of the Thatcherite 80’s is in danger of coming back to haunt us again – for Sheffield Steel now read Redcar or Doncaster or Motherwell. It is a very British trait that allows us to sympathise with men who have had their livelihoods removed with very little scope on the horizon but then to laugh at them clinging hopelessly to the routines of the 9-5 by visiting the park or the bus shelter; I know personally how demoralising and emasculating being out of work can be but deep down we don’t lose our sense of humour, even if the object of the jokes become ourselves.
The story, for anyone who has lived in a cave for the past 30 years, is about a group of steel workers in Sheffield who, having been made redundant 6 months ago, reach desperation in both financial and emotional terms. Driven by a need to show he can provide for his son, Gaz (brilliantly played by Gary Lucy) has tried every route to raise some cash (all of which are dubious to say the least) until he stumbles on a Chippendales night at the local club and realises that there is a huge market for male strippers. Of course, the Chippendales are all Adonis’s – toned and tanned, whilst Gaz’s gang are normal blokes, a mix of middle age, middle of the road and middle England but what they lack in physique they more than match in guts and self-depreciation. Realising that they need an extra hook to attract the punters, Gaz decides that, for one night only, they will perform ‘The Full Monty’ – stripped down to nothing but a hat and a smile and so begins their hilarious and touching training and practise.
The set for this show is possibly the most imaginative, visually stunning and complex I’ve seen here at the Civic – it resembles the interior of the steel works, complete with 7 tonne blue crane (nicknamed Lady Maggie), loading bays and security gangway. Flown into this are a series of extra scenes which make up the Conservative & Labour Clubs, the Job centre, the park and the rear alleyways, all of which are brilliantly designed and expertly installed.
As mentioned earlier, the soundtrack remains true to the movie – the main theme, a lilting reggae/ska hook written in a minor key is ever present whilst the dance routines are performed to the strains of Wilson Pickett, Donna Summer, Hot Chocolate, James Brown and, of course, Sir Tom Jones’ “You can leave your hat on”.
The cast too are very close to the original movie and this ensures that the dynamics, so crucial to bringing more than just slapstick belly laughs, are easily recognisable. Gaz’s calorie-challenged best mate is perfectly played by Martin Miller, on the front of it a funny fat lad but with plenty of insecurities underneath making his self-depreciation all too real. The timeless Louis Emerick plays Horse and it’s a real treat to see him live on stage, he’s got expert comedic timing and is no stranger to dance moves either. Baby faced Bobby Schofield plays Lumper, the half hearted suicidist who finds himself drawn to Guy, the toned & tanned surfer dude to which Rubert Hill brings his ‘super-sized’ talent !. For this performance Nathan, Gaz’s son, was played by Ewan Phillips – Ewan was brilliant, held his own amongst the adult stars, displayed fantastic comedy timing and certainly didn’t hold back when given the chance to enjoy the banter with Lucy. Completing the men’s line up is Andrew Dunn, one of the UKs finest comedy actors and a stalwart of TV & stage, in this he plays the lads former foreman who, like them, has been out of work for months but has yet to even tell his wife, scared of what she will say but also scared of her continued spending.
In all, whilst this show continues to attract a 95% female audience, it is not a show about male strippers (although the final number doesn’t fail to deliver) – it is a story about friendship, hardship, despair, sexual equality, impotence, suicide and the resolve of the human spirit – not normal ingredients for a feel-good musical but boy does it work – just remember to bring your hankies.