When we heard that Daniel Evans was to direct a play version of The Full Monty, in its spiritual hometown of Sheffield, it sounded like a must-see. It would be full of authentic northern grit, and maybe even carry an additional significance with a local audience. The original film is surely one of the best British movies of the late 20th century, with its combination of farcically funny and sad situations, and with some memorable performances; the kind of film only the Brits can do.
Simon Beaufoy has reshaped his original story for the stage and it transfers from projection to proscenium extremely well. Live theatre for me always has an edge over cinema anyway, and the stage version does drive home the harshness of the reality of those 1980s job losses, and also the resulting tension within some of the characters’ relationships. It also makes the prospect of the final stage show – in the flesh – something of an over-stimulation for certain members of the audience, of which more later.
The opening scene is superbly theatrical, as Gaz, his mate Dave and his son Nathan break in to the old factory, for old time’s sake and maybe to nick a girder if they can. There’s no gentle introduction to the action – it’s all sudden harsh lights, sound effects and the starkly unsentimental sight of disused machinery and broken dreams. It’s also very funny, right from the start, and the characters are brilliantly written so that they develop in a natural, self-discovering way. I’m sure you know the story but just in case – in brief, it’s the late 80s and Mrs Thatcher is seen to be to blame for the loss of all the traditional jobs, and we meet a few ex-colleagues at the old factory no longer able to hold their heads up, support their families or keep on the straight and narrow. One night they are shocked to see that the Chippendales are putting on a local show and all the women from near and far are paying decent cash to flock to them and see their erotic cavorting. Ambitious if nothing else, Gaz reckons he and his mates could put on a similar show, and get some quick cash as a result. But whereas the Chippendales obviously don’t go any further than the final thong – being nothing if not tasteful – the local guys trump their ace by deciding to go “the full monty”. Will they have the nerve? Will they bottle out? The final outcome is in doubt until the last few minutes, and the film famously ends on that frozen tableau of the guys flinging their hats off (the ones Tom Jones said they could leave on) into the air, seen from behind, to the obvious delight of the onlooking ladies. The expectation of how the stage version will recreate that image is a driving force that keeps the energy high, both on, but mainly off the stage.
Daniel Evans has obviously crafted a great team out of the cast, and the six guys who do the strip show have to be counted as amongst the bravest men on stage at the moment. Everything is subjective of course, I would say that at least four of them couldn’t be described as Adonises. But that is part of the whole essence of the play. These are just ordinary guys trying to make their way in the world. They’re not South Yorkshire’s Next New Model. Not being rude here, but you could describe some of them as the fat one, the scrawny one, the unfit one, and the old one. A very positive effect I got from the play was that, if any of them could do something like this, then why couldn’t I? Please don’t be alarmed – I’m not going to go the “full monty” for anyone. But I was surprised at how I did feel a confidence-boost from that aspect of the production.
Gaz, the central “loveable rogue” character, is played by Kenny Doughty and he is excellent. It’s a very confident physical performance, like when he’s teetering on the edge of the unbalanced girder, and his entrance in the final scene is impressively acrobatic. The character thinks he’s God’s Gift but his rather useless vanity and unerring ability to get things wrong becomes quite endearing. But he’s also a very convincing ringleader and Mr Doughty makes all these aspects come alive. His interaction with Nathan is also very realistic and moving. In the show we saw Nathan was played by (I think) Travis Caddy and it was an extraordinarily confident and mature performance for a thirteen-year-old. The other main character is Gaz’s mate Dave, played by Roger Morlidge, who has fallen into a kind of depression since the factory closed, showing no interest in his wife and constantly comfort eating. This is another very good performance, as he reveals increasing glimpses of the character’s internal agonies as the storyline proceeds – not just in his anxiety about performing the strip but also with his marriage and his appearance. There’s an ostensibly funny, but actually very sad scene involving his use of a roll of Clingfilm, which actually made me catch my breath in sympathy. His scenes with his wife Jean, Rachel Lumberg, are also really effective. Jean’s bubbly personality that we see early in the play provides a strong juxtaposition with Dave’s newly morose nature which sparks off some excellent scenes together. We also loved Miss Lumberg’s interaction with the bust of Mrs Thatcher.
There’s another superb performance from Simon Rouse as the ex-foreman Gerald, trying to maintain both his expensive wife and his professional superiority over the other guys against all the odds. The gradual sense of inevitability and disappointment that inhabits his expressions is great. At the same time he brings a very dour humour to the role and we both thought he was brilliant. There’s an extraordinarily emotionally charged scene between him and his wife played by Tracy Brabin near the end of the play, and you could have cut the atmosphere with a knife. The silence he held in that conversation would have made Pinter proud. I also thought Craig Gazey, as Lomper, gave a terrific performance as the woebegone loner, almost simple in his speech pattern, but absolutely convincing. His is probably the character that makes the biggest “journey” in the play – and his growing confidence is both life enhancing and funny. He also turns in some of the best comedy too. Sadly, we did think a couple of the performers were rather wooden; one actor and one actress just didn’t seem to have found the voices of their characters yet, and they sounded tentative and uncertain. However, it was still a preview performance, so hopefully these will improve in time.
I was surprised that, from our position in Row G of the stalls, you could clearly see a side door in the wings through which stagehands, ensemble actors and main cast members would enter during scenes and then stand behind a piece of scenery until they were required to come on and do whatever they had to do. It was quite distracting and took away from the magic of the theatre. However, as far as a distraction was concerned, this was nothing in comparison to the behaviour of some members of the audience.
The six brave men do indeed bare all at the end in a very clever combination of light and shade which means you may or may not see them in full, depending on your angle to the stage. You may think I’m concentrating a little unhealthily on “the final view” but, given that roughly half of our audience appeared to be tanked up groups of women behaving as though they were at a strip show it’s probably important information. Now whilst I am no prude or killjoy, and I’m well aware that the whole structure of the play is to build an atmosphere and whip up a bit of a frenzy for the final scene, unfortunately the loud, irritating and uninhibited behaviour got going within the first few minutes of the play starting. In fact, many people didn’t seem to bother to stop talking when the play began and it was a good minute or so before they realised people were talking on stage. It was as though some sectors of the audience were simply there for a strip show and they expected it to start at the beginning. This uninhibited behaviour included people calling out from various parts of the audience as though they were joining in with the on-stage characters, with the result that some of the lines were not audible. On some occasions it was amazing that the actors were actually able to carry on through the script. There’s a scene roughly halfway through where the guys decide they’re going to have to strip down to underpants because, after all, it’s going to have to happen at some point. You should have heard the baying shrieks of female sexual excitement during this scene. Honestly, you saw nothing that you wouldn’t see at a swimming pool or a beach, but the over-reaction of these ladies – fuelled by alcohol to a large extent – was an embarrassment, not only to my mind, but Mrs C also cringed at the behaviour of members of her sex.
Stating the obvious, if this had been a crowd of men on a boys’ night out shouting “get ‘em off” at ladies in underwear, the police would quite rightly have been called. I know that if you were to challenge the loud women they would defend themselves with “it’s just a bit of fun”; but that was the excuse men used to make in the old days and which women knew was unacceptable. Somewhere along the line, the whole ladette culture has invaded the theatre and it really is not to its credit. Mind you, there were clearly grannies and great-grannies also involved in the bad behaviour, so you could hardly call them ladettes. Whilst we were there we saw a member of the audience complaining to an usher about the women further along his row; I think this would have included the lady who took every opportunity to clap her hands above her head whilst still just about holding on to her beer glass. Mrs C saw another woman get up, push past some other people in her row and tell the beer glass lady to calm down. This is during a play! I believe that those theatres who are hosting this play during its forthcoming tour will need to keep a really close eye on their auditoriums and be brave enough to eject any theatregoers whose behaviour goes too far. This bad behaviour certainly ruined our enjoyment of the show – not completely, but certainly in part – and I think it rather pours scorn on the alleged sincerity of the creative team to recreate the authentic grittiness of the story in its hometown. I’m sorry, but to most of the audience it’s not so much about cheering the guys on in their struggle against adversity, it’s more about seeing as much c**k as possible; hence my complete admiration for the six actors.
So I came away from the show with very mixed emotions. There are some excellent performances and the authenticity of the set is stunning. It’s very funny, and in many ways heart-warming; but I despair of my fellow theatregoers! I felt like I should have gone to a pole-dancing club afterwards to regain a bit of self-respect.