The Full Monty

Simon Beaufoy
Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham and Buxton Opera House, Mark Goucher and David Pugh
Opera House, Manchester

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The Full Monty Credit: Ellie Kurttz
The Full Monty Credit: Ellie Kurttz
The Full Monty Credit: Ellie Kurttz
The Full Monty Credit: Ellie Kurttz
The Full Monty Credit: Ellie Kurttz
The Full Monty Credit: Ellie Kurttz

There have been so many variations on The Full Monty—film, musical, TV series—it is considered necessary to advise potential customers that the current touring production is ‘The Play’. The company takes seriously their responsibility to the actors—choreographer Ian West doubles as intimacy co-ordinator and the audience is warned taking photos will result in possible legal action as well as expulsion. A wildly enthusiastic crowd at the Opera House is not, however, in the least deterred and cheerfully takes on the role of rowdy audience at a strip club.

Sheffield steelworkers Gaz (Danny Hatchard) and his best mate, Dave (Neil Hurst), are forced to consider extreme options when the local plant closes. But Gaz’s proposal they should emulate male strippers The Chippendales is pushing things. Nevertheless, a motley crew of potential strippers is assembled, but, aware of their limitations and needing to provide value for money, the group realise they may have to offer customers The Full Monty.

Although The Full Monty is more than twenty years old, the announcement of job losses at Tata Steel Limited and the closure of the iconic Kellogg's plant in Trafford Park shows the central theme of blue-collar workers finding their skills are no longer required is as depressingly relevant as ever.

The longevity of the play can also be attributed to how author Simon Beaufoy traces the wider impact of redundancy beyond simple loss of employment. Without jobs, the characters are no longer breadwinners so their sense of identity is undermined, and they see themselves as no longer of use to their families, including in the bedroom.

But The Full Monty is far from a dour kitchen sink drama. There is the unspoken central joke that the characters are most unlikely strippers either by disposition or physique. Throughout, the characters use grim humour as a means of coping with their dire circumstances. In one case, literally gallows humour as unwitting assistance is given to a potential suicide. This accords with the resigned attitude laughter is better than crying, but the jokes are still very funny.

The cinematic origins of the play are apparent in short scenes which do not translate well to theatre, although director Michael Gyngell does his best to paper over the cracks. Jasmine Swann’s adaptable set is changed from a rusting, derelict steelworks to shabby exterior of a nightclub or interior of a dole office by the cast working as a unit to shift scenery.

Director Gyngell takes advantage of the theatre environment to set a slightly larger-than-life atmosphere which pushes the humour to the maximum. In the film, a scene where the characters slip into a discrete dance routine while in the dole queue is played naturalistically. On stage, Gyngell moves the scene into a fantasy bump and grind routine to the delight of the audience.

The Full Monty is very much a play of two distinct halves. The second act is stuffed with visual and physical humour ranged from the basic sight gag of a character stripping to reveal a pair of long johns to the more sophisticated scene of a dance rehearsal being interrupted by a pair of burglars convinced they have wandered into an orgy.

The first act has more verbal humour and, with little dancing, takes some time before big laughs are generated—Ben Onwukwe brings the house down with a dance routine combining athleticism with arthritis.

An understated theme of the play is the power and benefit of friendship and a very committed cast certainly convince as devoted workmates. Bill Ward’s martinet foreman gradually melts to find the pleasure of being one of the lads and Jake Quickenden has a fine time as Guy, who is cocky in every sense of the word. The play is built around the partnership of Danny Hatchard’s jack-the-lad Gaz and Neil Hurst as his long-suffering best mate who endures an endless number of bright ideas that go nowhere.

The closing big strip is played for real, with the cast shamelessly teasing the audience and flaunting their sleazy dance moves. It serves as an extended encore proving The Full Monty is a show that builds to a satisfying climax.

Reviewer: David Cunningham

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