The Full Monty – The Alexandra, Birmingham

Reviewer: Selwyn Knight

Writer: Simon Beaufoy

Director: Michael Gyngell

There can be few who don’t know the premise of The Full Monty, the 1997 British film which, perhaps unexpectedly, hit a nerve and won the BAFTA for best film that year. The award-winning stage version, adapted by the writer of the film’s screenplay, Simon Beaufoy, followed in 2013, followed by various productions, culminating in this new touring production.

Two Sheffield steelworkers have their lives turned upside down when the plant closes. They are pushed into a range of sometimes questionable activities to keep the wolf from the door. By chance, they pass the social club where The Chippendales are performing and see the reaction of the local women. Some back-of-the-envelope arithmetic later and it becomes clear that there is money to be made in stripping. So, an unlikely band of, frankly, ordinary men (well, except for Guy, who is … extraordinary) is recruited with a view to making enough money to clear their debts.

Given its premise, the story could easily descend into Carry-on-esque innuendo, but Beaufoy and director Michael Gyngell skilfully avoid this. As Gyngell notes in the programme, ‘it’s not about stripping, it’s about why they strip’. There is humour – plenty of it, mostly dark – but it arises naturally out of the men’s desperate positions. Each man has his demons, his reasons for joining this raggle-taggle army. And each man has his own journey to some sort of redemption.

At the centre are Gaz (Danny Hatchard) and his best mate, Dave (Neil Hurst). Gaz is determined to stay in contact with his son, Nathan, now living with his, Gaz’s, ex-wife and her new squeeze, the unpleasant Barry, while Dave is permanently struggling with his weight and self-esteem. They are joined by Gerald (Bill Ward), their former foreman, the ironically named Horse, the rather pathetic security guard, Lomper (Nicholas Prasad) and the aforementioned Guy.

Each character is fully three-dimensional and relatable. Hatchard brings a desperate humanity to Gaz, a man who will do anything to maintain contact with his son, while Hurst brings a lugubrious note to Dave’s struggles with his weight and the impact his low self-esteem has on his marriage. Ward draws out Gerald’s rather different situation, as he lets misplaced pride interfere with his good judgment. Prasad shows Lomper’s journey very well, as his state of mind, with the others’ support, moves from its nadir to an acceptance of his predicament. Much of the physical comedy comes from Ben Onwukwe’s Horse, the ageing dancer with dodgy joints, while Jake Quickenden breathes life into Guy’s apparently superficial persona.

Based on the film, the stage play retains a cinematic feel with several short set-piece scenes switching focus between characters and locations. To make this work, designer Jasmine Swan has created a marvel of a set. Three towers move, turn and are juxtaposed in myriad ways to sweep us to the various locations around Sheffield. They are multi-levelled and monochrome, representing the hulk of the abandoned steelworks where our protagonists thought they had a job for life.

Ultimately, The Full Monty is a feel-good show, a story of the little guy overcoming the odds. But it is never twee, never cheap. It might be set in Thatcher’s Britain of the 1980s, but it still has relevance today as it deals with so many issues still facing young men, and ever more so in the social-media-driven quest for some sort of unattainable perfection. And it does all that while making you laugh out loud.

Runs until 3 February 2024 and on tour

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The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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