The Full Monty
David Pugh and Dafydd Rogers
Wales Millennium Centre
There been two stage adaptations of The Full Monty, one of the most successful British films of the late 1990s. The first was a 2010 musical, set in Buffalo, New York, which has played successfully on Broadway and worldwide. The second is this, adapted by Simon Beaufoy, from his Oscar-nominated screenplay, which had a brief West End run in 2013, and has been periodically touring the UK ever since.
The original setting—Sheffield in the recession-hit late 1980s—is retained. Former steelworkers Gaz and Dave, impoverished and emasculated by unemployment, are inspired by the local women's enthusiasm for a visiting troupe of male strippers to put together an act of their own to boost both their bank balances and their embattled male egos.
Beaufoy and director Rupert Hill don't stray far from the original. Thus, the action begins with an old film (on a screen which is far too small) proclaiming Sheffield to be a "city on the move"; whereupon we witness Gary Lucy's Gaz and Kai Owen's Dave breaking into their derelict works in order to steal some girders to sell for scrap, accompanied by Gaz's disapproving son Nathan (Fraser Kelly—or, in some performances, Nathan Zammit).
Robert Jones's set is dominated by the huge, grimy factory windows which overshadow the proceedings throughout; thus Northern grimness is the abiding image, even amidst the numerous laughs and the frequent scene changes, as facilitated by Colin Grenfell's flamboyant lighting design.
Joined by security guard Lomper—Joe Gill—whose cleverly staged suicide attempt is played for laughs, they approach former foreman Gerald—Andrew Dunn—for his assistance; he may be a member of the despised local Conservative club, but he is also an experienced ballroom dancer. Following an amusingly mounted audition sequence, they manage to add arthritic Northern Soul devotee Horse—Louis Emerick—and the comically well-endowed Guy—James Redmond—to their ranks.
There are numerous misadventures and the occasional moment of reflection on the way to their eventual triumph. Most of the memorable riffs from the film are revisited—the Arsenal offside trap, the dole-queue dance, the cling-film—with Ian West skilfully handling the awkward choreography and the score comprising subtly appropriate songs from the era alongside evocative incidental music (the music consultant is Steve Parry, the sound designer Luke Swaffield).
The principals, all familiar faces from television, are on good crowd-pleasing form. Lucy plays Gaz as an unbowed, swaggering Jack-the-Lad (although he seems to have a little trouble with the South Yorkshire accent), with Owen eliciting much sympathy as the self-mocking, slightly overweight (it's integral to the plot) Dave; Emerick, Gill, Redmond and Dunn all have moments in which to shine.
There's also a sizeable supporting cast. Liz Carney has the most prominent female role—Jean, Dave's loving but frustrated wife; Alan Ashford impresses as both the nightclub's custodian and a hapless auditionee; and Bryonie Pritchard does double duty as the genteel wife whose materialism prompts Gerald to lie about his unemployed state and the brassy woman whose standing-up urination prompts the men to question their masculinity. Amy Thompson and Stephen Donald are stuck with one-note roles, as Gaz's ex-wife and her new partner, but acquit themselves well.
I get the impression, from the whoops that greeted every hint of disrobing, that the largely female audience were expecting more of a celebratory night out. This show, however, is tragi-comic in tone, and the serious themes—poverty, marital discord, homosexuality in a working-class context, the consequences of Thatcherism etc—are not soft-pedalled, but nor are they dwelt upon to the detriment of the brisk storytelling.
The bottom line (pardon the pun) is that those who love the film will love this production; those seeking Chippendales-style escapism would be better off looking elsewhere.