The Full Monty: The Musical – Old Joint Stock, Birmingham

Book: Terence McNally

Music and Lyrics: David Yazbek

Director: Adam Lacey

Reviewer: Selwyn Knight

It’s hard to believe that it’s over 20 years since the film, The Full Monty, burst onto cinema screens, telling the story of a group of Sheffield steelworkers made redundant from the only living they’d ever known. In 2000, the action was moved to Buffalo, NY for the stage musical which subsequently had short runs both on Broadway and in the West End. Despite the relocation, the plot closely mirrors that of the film, and it’s not entirely clear why it should be moved unless it was to make the story more relatable to American audiences. It’s certainly true that hearing the group use the quintessentially British phrase, ‘the Full Monty’ sounds decidedly odd in their New York drawls. Nevertheless, this is an ultimately uplifting and feelgood evening, full of good humour while still touching on some rather bigger questions than whether Horse actually is hung like one….

Jerry Lukowski is down on his luck. The steel plant has closed and he’s out of work with no visible income. He’s fallen behind with maintenance and is in danger of losing his visiting rights to his son. Desperate times call for desperate measures, but his pride prevents him from taking what he sees as low paid low-status work. So it is indeed serendipitous when he and best friend Dave Bukatinsky realise both wives are enjoying a raucous night out watching The Chippendales and do the maths to realise that the income from their ticket sales would solve their immediate problems.  They make the (slightly bizarre) leap to the conclusion that local women would want to see ordinary men – like them – strip. So they form a troupe with other ex-steel workers with the intention of going even further than The Chippendales and offering The Full Monty.

The show is a comic drama but does address big questions: what does it mean to be a man, what happens when self-esteem and self-image go out of the window? How does pride that is, in fact, pretty toxic, affect men’s relationships with each other and with wives and lovers? There’s lots to mull over while laughing at the idea that these six men might perform a strip routine.

And then there’s the technical problems of transferring the show into the small space that is the Old Joint Stock Theatre. This is solved neatly by the use of scaffolding to provide several layers to the set which stands in for all of the locations used. It’s used imaginatively to ensure seamless transitions so the pace never flags. That’s helped, of course, by the direction of Adam Lacey and choreography of Pippa Lacey that combine to ensure that the story progresses and we come to care about the characters and their lives. The ensemble cast is composed of universally good singers and dancers, filling the small space with their voices and characters.

We come to empathise with Jerry (Alex Wadham) and Dave (Oliver Britten) and understand the internal conflicts both endure – Jerry’s jealousy of his wife’s new situation, Dave’s crippling self-doubt that affects his marriage. Similarly, the fear that ex-supervisor Harold Nichols (Rhys Owen) has that his wife will simply leave if he can’t provide for her is projected well, leading him to keep his redundancy secret as debt mounts. Indeed, this storyline leads to one of the most moving moments in the show in the song You Rule My World, when Harold’s wife, Vicky (Jenefer Trapp) assures him of her love regardless, while at the same time, Dave’s wife, Georgie (Sam Carlyle) is able to go some way to address his self-doubts about his body.

Other characters are drawn more lightly, though the journey of closet homosexual Malcolm (Duncan Burt) from being desperate enough to attempt suicide to finding love with Ethan (Jack Ballard) is believable, even if Malcolm’s character is maybe a touch stereotyped. The pressure to perform that Horse (Aaron Mwale) feels is also nicely done, even if the suspension of disbelief is rather stretched to imagine this physically fit young man as the somewhat doddery old codger the character demands.

Sweeping in to direct rehearsals is Jeanette (Kirsty Cartwright) a loud New Yorker who’s seen it all – and who brings a colourful presence to the stage whenever present.

Lacey has done a fine job in producing a great feelgood evening that’s full of laughs and the occasional tear as we urge each of the guys to overcome his personal demons to come out on top. A great night out that will undoubtedly leave you with a smile on your face as you leave.

Runs Until 1 September 2018  | Image: Nicholas Corre

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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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