Monday 15th October 2018 at the Grand Opera House, York.
Simon Beaufoy’s play is based on the film (Fox Searchlights Pictures)…which I’ve never seen (I know). My feelings about the show are apparently out of keeping with the general population because I haven’t had the influence of the film guiding me through this production. So what do I make of it as a newbie? Well, The Full Monty is famous for its fun-loving, rip-roaring portrayal of a gaggle of men trying their hand at stripping, but there’s much more to it that barely gets a mention. This production carries elements of all those things – but it’s far more deep and melancholic than I was expecting, and on reflection, the surprising sadness gives the story an edge well beyond the willy jokes and bum wiggles so many book to see…Set in 1980s Sheffield amidst the ruination and removal of the steel works, little pieces of local men died with those jobs and the security they provided. The story revolves around the stripping most of the way, but it’s difficult to ignore the quiet devastation of the men when looking at the story with eyes untrained by the movie. Young men have lost the promise of work and security while older men have lost their sense of purpose and dignity. The men commune to lament their lack of jobs and during one of these sessions, the lucrative vocation of stripping is pitched by a cash-strapped dad desperate to pay his Child Support and in turn, to maintain custodial access to his son.
The stripping story line is a little more sobering when you stand back and look at such harsh facts; no job, no jobs on the horizon, no money to pay what is owed and the very real threat of losing access to a young son lead to a bodily act of desperation. Looking a twit for one night is nothing if it’ll earn as much as the Chippendales can pick up in a couple of hours – it certainly seems contradictory to strip in a bid to retain a sense of dignity but that’s exactly the road taken.Gary Lucy is our desperate dad Gaz – a mischief-maker with a swagger and a can-do attitude. He has a chip on his shoulder about his ex’s new man and his comparative lack of worth to a young boy craving treats and reliability. Son Nathan is played by Fraser Kelly, a natural in a role which sees endearing love and belief in his dad merged with teen-level frustration towards that same man who just can’t seem to stop courting trouble in one way or another. Theirs is a heart-warming relationship against a back-drop of poorly-masked disillusionment and half-hearted bickering between pals…and their respective missusses!
The band of stripping brothers are made up of Gerald (Andrew Dunn), Horse (Louis Emerick), Lomper (Joe Gill), Dave (Kai Owen) and Guy (James Redmond). Gerald is the oldest of the batch, with a clueless wife, mortgage and a holiday to support – but Dunn gives a performance which combines the real strain of lying to loved ones with the energetic dad-dancing thrusts brilliantly. Lomper is apparently a tragi-comic character but in today’s climate, the jokes are a little sharp – Gill’s performance make him thoroughly lovable in all his muddled frustrations while poking fun at a serious subject in a darkly winning way.Redmond’s performance as Guy offers up an altogether more confident male with a twinkle in his eye despite his personal struggles. Horse has a twinkle too, but he has his own problems – Emerick’s performance allows Horse to lead the way with fearless honesty, and his dancing definitely takes the crown too! Then there’s Dave – a hopeless case in his own eyes; his loss of job has caused mental and physical side-effects which make him doubt his place in all of his relationships. So they’re generally a bruised and battered bunch chewed up by a hard, cold system of job cuts – but they’ll quip and shimmy their way to better days by gum!
Although the stripping is a consequence of impending poverty and money misery, there are of course plenty of laughs in the mix. The men are hardly contenders for the perfected Chippendales and that leads to plenty of gags – as does the endless fascination men have with other men’s goolies. There’s a definite connection which grows across the performance and again, within a modern climate awash with talk of toxic masculinity, it’s nice to see men rooting for each other, even if they aren’t very forthcoming with each other about their real problems. It’s also clearly very dated in places, featuring some casual gay-bashing and decidedly out-dated takes on gender politics and marriage; but the writing is witty and brings real folk to the stage, meaning there’s plenty here to engage an audience in any decade.
I will say that the production feels a little lacking in life and action during the first act but Director Rupert Hill picks up the pace and the energy in Act 2 as the men go about finally ‘fessing up to some of the things bothering them and gear up to getting their gear out in the name of defending their financial security! I don’t think my take on the play is likely to be a reflection of the general viewing audience, but I enjoyed it from something of a unique perspective it seems… I’d be interested to know if the play has given fans of the movie more pause for thought in seeing the darker moments surrounding the fun of all the hip hurling foolery.
The Full Monty plays at York Opera House until October 20th and you can find tickets here.