THE FULL MONTY
Birmingham Hippodrome, Monday 14th November, 2016
The stage adaptation of the hit film is doing the rounds again and while we may feel familiar with it, we perhaps forget how brilliant it is. Ostensibly – and undeniably – a comedy, Simon Beaufoy’s remarkable script is also a study of masculinity in an adverse economic climate. The play is set against the backdrop of Thatcher’s Britain but guess what, many of the themes are all too pertinent today. The emasculating effects of long-term unemployment, redundancy of the male, with women bringing home the bacon and, in a hilarious scene, even pissing standing up, makes the male characters feel obsolete – redundant personally as well as economically. Relationships inevitably come under strain – one man can’t even bring himself to tell his wife he has lost his job, another faces losing access to his son… And Beaufoy also manages to mix in issues of body image and objectification – the men don’t like it now the roles are reversed.
Above all, the play remains very, very funny. The audience is certainly up for it, whooping and cheering when lead actor Gary Lucy (Gaz) makes his first appearance. Perhaps they have mistaken it for a Chippendales-type cabaret show but, thankfully, they immediately settle down to listen to the unfolding drama. Yes, there are whoops and cheers still but these feel in support of the characters and their journey rather than plain old-fashioned catcalling of the actors.
Director Jack Ryder manages all the diverse elements of the script perfectly, timing the gags and surprises to maximum effect while giving the issues time to breathe. The more sentimental moments, for example between Dave and his wife Jean, are handled with a light touch and are all the sweeter and more poignant for it. Gary Lucy makes an affably laddish lead, even if his accent roams around the North West at times, while Kai Owen’s ever-dieting Dave is an excellent, down-to-earth foil for Gaz’s dreams and schemes. Louis Emerick’s Horse balances physical humour (his audition piece is a scream) with quiet desperation – he has no alternative but to take part in the get-rich-quick project (In case you don’t know – where have you been? – the men get together to stage a strip show in order to make cash). It’s not just the working class affected by unemployment: middle-class Gerald (the excellent Andrew Dunn) is co-opted to bring his Conservative Club choreography to the troupe. And it’s not just straights, either. Hard times affect all walks of society. Chris Fountain ups the tottie factor as out-and-proud Guy, another facet of maleness Beaufoy holds up – Guy is neither camp nor delicate and his burgeoning relationship with shy, slow-witted Lomper (Anthony Lewis, in a layered characterisation) is underplayed to touching effect. Yet one of the strongest performances of the night comes from the remarkable Felix Yates as Gaz’s nine-year-old son Nathan, clearly the grown-up in their relationship! It’s not just the breadwinner that suffers when there is no bread to be won.
The strip-show finale is an exhilarating climax. The characters ‘go the full monty’ as if to say, We are men and here we are. Stripped of everything else, it’s a moment of self-assertion and defiance. There is a lot of man-flesh on show but more than that, the show exhibits a lot of heart. Uplifting in a time of recession, the play, like the film before it, remains life-affirming and a great deal of fun.
(The tour is proving extremely popular – if you want to see it in Birmingham, an extra matinee has been added on Thursday 17th)