Stage version of hit film is "well worth the accolades it has attracted"
The only thing I knew about The Full Monty before I saw this production on Monday (April 29) at New Wimbledon Theatre was that the male cast take their clothes off.
Having now seen this play I’m disappointed that this particular aspect of the show gives it its reputation when really the play is about a group of men struggling to escape from a void in their lives filled by depression, poverty and despair.
The Full Monty is based on the 1997 film of the same name which was the highest grossing film of its time. The script was adapted for the stage by Oscar-winning writer Simon Beaufoy who was born in Keighley in West Yorkshire. Produced by David Pugh and Dafydd Rogers and Directed by Rupert Hill the story revolves around six unemployed men most of whom are Sheffield steelworkers who manage to find a way out of their silent despair of unemployment by being inspired to copy the Chippendales and charge audiences to see them strip totally naked. In fact the play is a social report on the period of industrial decline in Sheffield. As a Yorkshire woman I could not help but be slightly irritated by ladies in the audience who seemed to be particularly excited by viewing male torsos. A common sight on a West Yorkshire housing estate in the 70s was to see shirtless men sitting idly on their doorsteps because they had no work and no hope of getting any; all very unexciting and unglamorous.
Themes of poverty, depression and suicide, homosexuality and the shame of unemployment are all treated with great northern humour. The ability to turn the horror of a rescued hanging man into a hysterically funny dialogue exploring a myriad of alternative ways of committing suicide are to the production’s great credit, as is to turn a young lady relieving herself in the street into a really funny comedy sketch. All very cleverly illustrated.
The play opens with a TV box and soundtrack extolling the virtues of the thriving town of Sheffield. Stop the box and then enter into the stark reality when life changes and the thriving community is a thing of the past. The play is set in the early 1970s and the dance troupe is led by Gaz (Gary Lucy) and Dave (Kai Owen) who are introduced in a grey industrial setting reflecting their predicament where life is slow. By the time Lomper arrives (played by Joe Gill) and interviews have been held for other members of the striptease troupe (Horse (Louis Emerick), Gerald (Andrew Dunn) and Guy (James Redmond)) the audience is introduced to some hilarious fun. By Act 2 we see optimism as the men focus on their plan. We’re introduced to nostalgic numbers such as Je T’aime , You Sexy Thing and You can Take Your Hat off - to name but a few - which kept us all rocking in our seats.
The star of the show for me personally was Gaz’s son Nathan, played by Fraser Kelly with an alternative of Nathan Zammit. The character of Nathan is the next generation, without the baggage of industrial Sheffield, who represents the way forward to the future. He goes to the ‘Con’ Club and gives his £100 savings to his father to enable him to rent a room for the troupe’s striptease act. The affection between father and son and his ability to show his father another route in life of hope are inspiring and remind us that life is constantly changing with the generations.
The main stars of this show are interestingly all male although Liz Carney as Gaz’s wife Jean gives a strong performance and the other ladies reflect the social scene of the era. Some of their behaviour is not for the fainthearted and can be gritty and raw. Likewise the language in the play is not for the fainthearted either. But this play is about a stark reality of post-industrial Britain and creative ways to survive unemployment rather than an excuse to see nudity. It was interesting that the audience was predominantly female although I was pleased to see a healthy collection of men as well.
This is a fascinating and very sensitively treated production well worth the accolades it has attracted. It runs at New Wimbledon Theatre until Saturday (May 4).
By Carol Whittaker
May 1, 2019