Writer: Simon Beaufoy
Director: Michael Gyngell
Everyone knows the story of The Full Monty, it’s a play about male strippers isn’t it? Well, yes but also no. For if you look beyond the hype, the screaming and whooping audience, what you have is a poignant, moving and, actually, very sad tale of people who feel they have been thrown onto the scrap heap. It’s about a community that’s been devastated by the closure of the steel mill, in a time and place where the expectation was that you had a job for life. It’s about struggling to get by when you’re on benefits that don’t meet your needs, and how people cope – or don’t cope – when they’ve lost their pride and sense of self-worth.
It’s not a play about men stripping – it’s a play about why the men decide to strip.
This is Simon Beaufoy’s stage adaptation of his hit screenplay, not to be confused with the musical of the same name, and it’s set in the north of England during the Thatcher years – a time when whole swathes of industry were being closed down. Gaz and his friend Dave try to add to their income by stealing scrap metal from the mill, helped by Gaz’s son Nathan – but he still doesn’t have enough to pay the maintenance money he owes his estranged wife, and she is threatening to take away his access to his son. When they see how many women have turned up to watch a performance by The Chippendales they decide that there’s money to be made by taking their clothes off, but there are problems – they need more people, and they can’t dance. So they set about getting others involved in their plan.
There’s good work from the entire cast but inevitably the spotlight falls on the six men who form the group. Danny Hatchard makes an ideal Gaz, desperate and likeable despite having turned to crime, with Neil Hurst as an excellent Dave, overweight and constantly dieting. Bill Ward is suitably uptight as foreman and Conservative Club member Gerald, with Nicholas Prasad making a wonderfully shy and unassuming Lomper. Jake Quickenden is a supremely confident Guy, toned and tanned, and worryingly keen on taking his clothes off, with Ben Onwukwe a nicely-played Horse, who back in the day knew all the dance moves – but that was a long time ago and his body may not be as up for it as it was.
The set by Jasmine Swan is a thing of wonder, a large framework of girders and staircases that moves together in a multitude of different shapes to create different locations and settings. It creates great flexibility, though the scene changes take a little longer than is ideal and could perhaps have been choreographed more slickly or some business created to give the audience something to watch rather than large frames being dragged around the stage.
Dig deeper than the title and what you have is a piece about people. It’s about loss – loss of standing, loss of money, loss of hope, all delivered with a wry Northern humour. These men aren’t heroes, they’re human beings with their own body issues, they’re the people you see in the pub, and you feel for them and want them to succeed. Although delivered as a comedy, it has a serious heart – and whether you think everything they make fun of is appropriate or funny is something for personal taste. Despite the humour there’s a sense of realism that flows through, until the very final scene which abruptly brushes aside the reality to create a glitzy feelgood finale which jars slightly – but ultimately is a piece with a heart and soul, and it’s nicely done.
Runs until 7 October 2023 and on tour