Writer: Simon Beaufoy
Director: Rupert Hill
Reviewer: Simon Topping
Mirroring the smash hit 1997 film of the same name, The Full Monty starts with a genuine information film from 1972 about Sheffield, called “Sheffield – City on the move”, with the announcer exuberantly and poetically exalting the cities steel industry. Cut to 25 years later and our action begins, following six out of work steelworkers suffering various forms of hardship trying to get back on their feet and make a living in a post-industrialised north.
Simon Beaufoy’s script keeps all the bawdiness and humour of the film. The fabulous one-liners come thick and fast as we meet all the main protagonists. Gaz (Gary Lucy) is the ring leader. He is a man without purpose, feeling a loss of pride as he tries to maintain a relationship with his son after the break up of his marriage. Down on his luck and seeing the new craze of male strippers come to town, Gaz hits upon the idea of forming a band of local male strippers to allow him to make some quick cash to pay the child maintenance he is running perilously behind on. But what will make them different from the others? Why going Full Monty of course!
In some ways basing a play on such an iconic British film is constraining. All the touchstones of the film have to be met and occasionally this leads to short scenes within the play feeling a little rushed in a way that the audience can see a tick box exercise is in operation. However, on the whole, the play is wonderfully executed and performed giving a baying Brighton crowd, of at least 80% women, exactly what they had been expecting.
Robert Jone’s staging captures the atmosphere of those grey and bleak times, with the stage cleverly transforming from an abandoned steel mill to the dole office, working men’s club and various other locations. The grime and repression of a declining industrial city have been captured perfectly.
Gary Lucy plays Gaz well. Occasionally his accent distractingly strays from the north and as Gaz is not written as a very sympathetic character it is difficult to truly invest in his story, even when Lucy makes a solid effort at it. As the play continues the crowd can see it is through his love of his son, Nathan, that Gaz finally becomes redeemable and is ultimately a person the throng can route for.
The cast surrounding Lucy help bring the show to life. Gaz’s best mate, Dave (Kai Owen) is the loveable body sensitive “fat man” of the group who has lost his sexual mojo since his redundancy. Owen delivers some of the funniest lines in the show in a wonderfully deadpan way. A discussion about the different ways to kill yourself is particularly funny and the scenes with Dave and his wife are often genuinely touching, as they try to reconnect in difficult circumstances.
The whole main cast gel together well as a band of misfits with a shared goal. Louis Emerick plays the ironically named Horse, Joe Gill as the suicidal Lomper and the excellent Andrew Dunn as Gerald. They all have their own time to shine both comedically and in poignant ways. James Redmond playing Guy produces a certain prosthetic reveal at the end of act one that has the room shrieking with laughter and howling with joy.
Set over 20 years ago you can still see the relevance of the piece today in a Britain divided by Brexit, with the loss of further industry and austerity still keen in people’s minds. It also chimes with present-day themes when it comes to the issues of toxic masculinity, mental health and men not truly talking about their issues to one another.
The soundtrack is warmly nostalgic with the hits from Tom Jones, Donna Summer and Hot Chocolate. The music plays its finest role in the famous dole queue skit, here gleefully reproduced to great applause, as well as in the final scene of the play, the strip.
The final reveal, is of course, what the audience are here to see and it does not disappoint. Like the play as a whole, the strip is a joyful show of male empowerment. Unemployment may have stripped them of their dignity and pride but stripping on stage allows them to claim that back. Both touching and funny in equal measure this is a fine display of manhood that leaves the audience uplifted.
Runs until 26 January 2019 | Image: Matt Crockett