THE FULL MONTY
Birmingham Hippodrome, Tuesday 26th February, 2013
Writer Simon Beaufoy adapts his own screenplay from the much-loved film for this touring stage production – a play, unlike the musical version of a few years ago, which transplanted the action to the USA. The good news is this adaptation brings the story back to Sheffield and works brilliantly. Playing to a packed house, the story is something of a period piece but I was struck by how pertinent it is to today’s economic woes.
Driven by necessity to stealing girders from the factory in which they used to work, the men of Sheffield hit upon the idea of forming a male strip troupe for a one-night only, get cash quick, performance, that will ease their situation and lift them (albeit temporarily) out of the mire.
The premise immediately taps into a rich vein of humour but also a richer vein of pathos. What the film did, and what the play does, is give dignity to the jobless by emphasising their humanity. They are not just statistics, or the ‘undeserving poor’ – these are individuals each with his own story. In Thatcher’s Britain, the unemployed were perhaps more visible than they are nowadays in the land of Cameron and Clegg. These days, they are hidden in fudged figures and online job-seeking. These days they are clumped together as scroungers and shirkers, vilified and demonised. This play reminds us the unemployed have skills, feelings and aspirations. I found it very apposite. Members of the misguided Cabinet should be made to watch this show until they get the point.
Led by Gaz, the group of men stumble their way through rehearsals, in hilarious bouts of physical comedy. None of them are Chippendales material, but that is entirely the point. They are bloke-shaped blokes, willing to objectify themselves from economic necessity, in circumstances that were not of their making. It all builds to the performance itself and the final reveal. Backlighting protects the actors’ modesty, but that final moment of triumph when the characters go the full monty is uplifting in its symbolism. We are men, the gesture asserts, here we are. In their northern dialect, one might say “Ecky homo!”
The cast is excellent. Kenny Doughty’s Gaz is the Jack-the-lad figure, desperate to retain access to his son (a very strong Jay Olpin). Roger Morlidge is Dave, the biggest bloke on a diet of cream crackers. He’s a gentle giant and his scenes with wife Jean (a superb Rachel Lumberg) are among the most touching moments. Craig Gazey is weirdo Lomper, displaying perfect comic timing. Simon Rouse is effective as ex-foreman Gerald who comes to learn that even people who don’t attend the Conservative club, and yes, even his own wife, have more to them than he at first supposes. Sidney Cole brings dignity as well as broad comedy to his role as a man called Horse, and Kieran O’Brien brings confidence as cocky Guy – if I can use that epithet!
Robert Jones’s design keeps the architecture of the disused factory present throughout. Its girders and corrugated iron haunt the men’s lives wherever they go. Director Daniel Evans handles the changes in tone and the action expertly. I suspect that a large contingent in the audience come to see some grown men take off their clothes rather than a play about grown men who take off their clothes. There’s a difference in perception there but the drama wins out. When the men achieve their aim, reclaiming their masculinity, we cheer their endeavour and their success rather than the actual stripping. I’d like to think that’s the case, anyway. And any anti-Thatcher sentiment is always welcome.
A thoroughly entertaining evening and a flawless production, The Full Monty is much, much more than a bit of a giggle for a girls’ night out.