Writer: Simon Beaufoy
Music Consultant: Steve Parry
Director: Jack Ryder
Choreographer: Ian West
Reviewer: Janet Jepson
It often takes a film to hammer home to the masses the effects of huge social changes that occur in British history. Two of the most damaging of these changes in the Yorkshire area in fairly recent decades have been the losses of the mining and the steel-making industries. Everyone knows that these once huge industries bit the dust in the late 80s and early 90s under the reign of the Thatcher government, but the films Brassed Off and The Full Monty – released in 1996 and 1997 respectively – really illustrate the effects of these losses in human terms.
Both films are ostensibly comedies because that’s how working-class Northerners like their tragedies: the more desperate the situation, the better the jokes. The Full Monty is regularly described as feel good, but as its scriptwriter, Simon Beaufoy says: “Who would have thought a film in which there is impotence, unemployment, despair and suicide attempts would be described as feel good?”
In a nutshell, the plot of The Full Monty revolves around the desperate efforts of a group of redundant steelworkers to cope with unemployment in the city of Sheffield. They thought that they had skilled jobs for life, as their fathers and grandfathers before them, in an industry that would go on forever. Sheffield had always been famous for its steel – surely the world couldn’t go on without it? But sadly it could, and cheap imported steel meant that works were closed down and workers were thrown on the scrapheap. Gaz (Gary Lucy of EastEnders) and his mate Dave (Kai Owen) are on the lookout for ways to make a bit of cash on the side to supplement their dole money. The iron girders from the old works are a little cumbersome to remove and sell for scrap, but they try anyway.
One of the funniest but most poignant scenes in the performance occur at this point when ex-canteen worker, now security guard Lomper (wonderfully endearingly played by Anthony Lewis) turns up. Gaz and Dave dissuade him from hanging himself, and there’s an entertaining discussion of how else he could commit suicide: “Drown?” – “I can’t swim …”; “Get a mate to run you over?” – “I have no mates …”
This clever banter is the tone of the whole show as we meet the rest of the lads and their wives and girlfriends. The Yorkshire accents leave a little to be desired, but this is maybe the only thing to criticise, because the interaction between the cast members is superb. Gradually the idea of male stripping creeps in, and auditions using Lomper’s mum’s LPs bring in arthritic, ‘Shetland pony’-proportioned Horse (aka Louis Emerick), gay guy (Chris Fountain) with his impressive tackle, and finally ex-foreman Gerald (Andrew Dunn, of Dinnerladies fame), whose wife is blissfully unaware he’s out of work. They form a motley bunch, and the stripping practice is hilarious. Then there’s that priceless scene in the dole queue to Donna Summer’s Hot Stuff.
Fiona Skinner plays Dave’s wife Jean and illustrates perfectly the character of the tough Northern working girl who likes a coarse laugh and a girls’ night out but stands by her man through thick and thin. The young actor playing Gaz’s son Nathan is excellent – at this performance at Leeds Grand no announcement was made which child took the role, but it appeared to be Reiss Ward. All other characters are equally well cast.
The set is multi-purpose, at first glance a derelict steelworks (complete with realistic showers of sparks), but it also becomes a dole office, a working men’s club, the Conservative Club, Gerald’s house and anything else necessary, merely by the clever use of sliding doors. The whole scene is dismal as it should be; the characters make their own lives against this depressing backdrop. Of course, the music brings out the atmosphere, with all the familiar favourites such as Flashdance (What a Feeling), and Hot Chocolate’s You Sexy Thing.
This masterpiece gives insight into what such men went through when their lives were torn apart by the decisions of a faceless government (is that the reason behind the Margaret Thatcher bust?), and illustrates what inspiration and the Northern sense of humour can achieve. If you’re lucky enough to be seated in the correct position, you might even end the evening by seeing a little bit more than you bargained for, despite the dazzling lights and promises that You can leave your hat on … but then it is the FULL Monty after all.
Runs until 3 December 2016 then continues to tour | Image: Matt Crockett