The Full Monty
The Lowry, Salford
Originally a surprise hit as a low-budget British film in 1997 and then a Broadway musical adapted by Terence McNally in 2000 transferred to Buffalo, New Jersey, this popular tale is now returned to Sheffield, both fictionally and in reality, directed by Sheffield Theatres artistic director Daniel Evans.
Like other popular British films Brassed Off and Billy Elliot, this is a tale of Thatcher's Britain, set in a town built up around heavy industry and now impoverished since that industry was shut down. However there seem to have been no qualms about keeping the strong anti-Thatcher rhetoric from the characters in this play after the recent death of the most devisive of Prime Ministers, unlike in Billy Elliot the Musical on the West End where the decision to retain a particular song was put to an audience vote.
Broke, unemployed and threatened with having access to his son cut off by his ex-wife if he doesn't pay maintenance, Gaz is distracted from stealing scrap metal from the closed steelworks by a new money-making scheme when he sees the response to the Chippendales coming to town. He gathers together some fellow unemployed men who reluctantly agree to one night of stripping in the local working men's club, and just to go one up on their most famous predecessors, Gaz says they will go "the full monty"—"all off".
Simon Beaufoy has created a very good adaptation of his own screenplay that reduces the number of locations without sacrificing any of the story, working perfectly well on its own merits as a play without betraying its cinematic origins—unlike many screen-to-stage transfers. This is helped hugely by a very cleverly-designed set from Robert Jones that keeps the interior of the abandoned steelworks as a permanent backdrop but transforms neatly into the other locations.
All of this is smoothly directed by Evans, culminating in a superb routine with a very cleverly staged ending. No spoilers here!
On press night at The Lowry, there was a particularly loud, female section of the audience that was clearly here to see male strippers rather than a story of trying to overcome adversity against a particularly timely political backdrop, laughing or talking through the more serious scenes or shouting "awww" like children at a pantomime. Just to remove any suspense or comic timing, two women behind me were shouting out all the major punchlines before they were said by the actors.
Some of the actors' performances noticeably coarsened to contend with the audience reactions or became more shouty to be heard over them—although some seemed to be shouting all of their lines from the start. However some maintained their integrity and did their best to retain the nice subtleties in the script and production.
Kenny Doughty's gives a rather flat performance as Gaz without any of the lovely touches of character that Robert Carlyle brought to the role in the film. Roger Morlidge manages to bring a bit more depth into Dave, who worries about his weight, giving real feeling to the later scenes with the wonderful Rachel Lumberg as his wife Jean. Simon Rouse is also very good as ex-manager Gerald who has concealed from his wife Linda—another excellent performance by Tracy Brabin who also plays two other roles—that he has been out of work for six months.
Craig Gazey plays Lomper, who discovers he is gay, entirely for laughs, but Kieran O'Brien as Guy—a relatively small part of someone with an exceptionally large part—brings a cheeky liveliness to a fairly quiet character. Ian Mercer also gives a notable performance as the landlord of the club.
Overall, while the performances are uneven, this is a good production of a well-honed script with the personal and the political cleverly combined. And men who take their clothes off. Just beware that if you are attracted to the show mainly for the former, you may be sat amongst people entirely here for the latter who will test your—and the actors'—powers of concentration.