The Full Monty– New Wimbledon Theatre, London

Writer: Simon Beaufoy

Director: Rupert Hill

Reviewer: Scott Matthewman

The collapse of Northern England’s industrial heritage caused something of an existential crisis in the workers left behind. Simon Beaufoy’s 1997 film The Full Monty captured that feeling as it was happening, with his tale of a group of ex-steel workers who, desperate for some cash, become the world’s most improbable male stripper troupe.

Beaufoy’s own stage adaptation sticks with the film’s 1997 Sheffield setting, turning what was a contemporary account into a period piece. Those feelings of dinted pride in a workforce left behind by progress, though, still feel raw and current.

What made the film so popular is Beaufoy’s juxtaposition of humour with the desperate straits his characters find themselves in. Here the cast, led by Gary Lucy as ex crane operator Gaz, mines the comedy well. Kai Owen, in particular, brings a puppy-eyed pathos to the role of Gaz’s best mate Dave, whose reticence to take part in his friend’s crazy striptease idea plays into very real concerns about body image and self-worth.

Experienced comic actors Andrew Dunn and James Redmond, playing respectively the straight-laced former supervisor Gerald and confidently out gay decorator Guy, further bring out the humorous side to their characters without jettisoning the serious side to their situation. Redmond also works well alongside a touching performance by Joe Gill as Lomper, a nervy young man who finds that Guy’s presence in the team encourages a sexual awakening of his own.

Perhaps the most touching performance of the evening, though, is that of Fraser Kelly as Gaz’s son, Nathan. The relationship between father and son – under strain thanks to an ongoing custody battle fuelled, as everything, by money and the lack of it – is rendered wholly believable by Kelly’s grounded portrayal. The character may have been written for a younger boy – Kelly first played the role five years ago – but this production’s positioning of Nathan as a young man on the cusp of adulthood brings extra levels to his relationship with Lucy’s Gaz.

But of course, in addition to the state-of-the-nation comedy in The Full Montythere is also the notion of seeing actors take their clothes off. Certainly it seems to be what some members of the Wimbledon audience were only there for, whoops and hollers at every mention of stripping often drowning out the onstage dialogue.

When the moment arrives, it is fun, of course. But it is also symbolic, a sextet of men shucking off the shackles of their emotional armour just as they discard their onstage uniforms. And while the drop of the curtain is understandably quick to protect the modesty of the actors whose backlit silhouettes form the final visual image of the piece, one would hope for a short moment to share that experience with the characters.

As it is, director Rupert Hill’s production loses its grip on that side of Beaufoy’s vision as soon as Tom Jones starts singing about leaving your hat on. But that doesn’t detract too much from a solid stage play that has more to say about masculinity than it does about exposing flesh.

Continues until May 4 2019 | Image: Contributed

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Solid state-of-the-nation striptease

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