Words by Ed King / Production pics by Ellie Kurtt
Written for the stage by Simon Beaufoy, the UK screenwriter who penned the Oscar nominated 1997 film (that made over £160m from a production budget of only £3m), The Full Monty opened at The Alexandra Theatre in Birmingham on Tuesday 30 January – directed by Michael Gyngell.
Running at The Alex until Saturday 3 February, the show will go on to eight more cities across the UK, before heading back to Canterbury its final run in April at The Marlow.
A immensely popular film, the title of this well established narrative describes the ultimate show all our six struggling protagonists have ultimately committed to – after realising without six packs and washboard stomachs they’ll need to bring a bit more to the table if they want to cash in Chippendales style.
But like the expression itself, The Full Monty is not a story about taking your clothes off. It’s about the desperation so many in Sheffield and other cities felt in the nineties as the legacy of successive Thatcher governments ravaged the widespread provider that was Sheffield’s steel industry – leaving broken unions and communities scrabbling in the shadows.
The play opens as Gaz (Danny Hatchard) and Dave (Neil Hurst) are breaking into their once workplace to “liberate” some steel girders for £40 a pop. With them is Gaz’s son, Nathan, played brilliantly on the Birmingham opening night by Rowan Poulton – a young actor from South Yorkshire who outshone several of the adults around him.
Gaz is behind on his child maintenance payments, to the point he is about to lose access to Nathan, and not wanting to take a job “stacking shelves in Morrisons” or working night shifts as a security guard they embark on their own ‘steel industry’ – plundering the abandoned warehouses that used to be the bread and butter for many families, including their own.
But crime doesn’t pay, apparently, and after seeing male strippers pack out their local working men’s club they decide that sex is probably a better pitch.
So, led by Gaz, played well by Hatchard but who Beaufoy’s script leaves a little difficult to feel overly sorry for, they start recruiting other men to perform a one night only strip that could earn them some much needed quick cash.
Enter Lumper (Nicholas Prasad) a security guard literally at the end of his rope, the ironically named Horse (Ben Onwukwe), and the beauty next to the beasts, Guy (Jake Quickenden).
And along the way, with each character shinning their own individual light into the increasingly dark corners, the play addresses issues around sexual inequality and inadequacy, male suicide, body dysmorphia, and homophobia – although often with a light touch and language that is certainly ‘of its time’.
Jumping from warehouses to working men’s clubs, from side streets to jobcentres, Jasmine Swan’s mailable stage gets twisted, turned, separated, and stuck back together to represent all locations – looking superb throughout, and a little reminiscent of the Les Misérables barricades that came before it.
The cast all bring their characters to life, working well together, and allow each other enough room to show their true skin – figuratively and literally. And at the other end of the chronological rainbow to the young Nathan/Poulton, Gerald (Bill Ward) represents the challenges facing older men who lost their livelihoods with a superb balance.
The second half brings the narrative firmly together, including a wonderful recreation of ‘the job centre queue scene’ where the subconscious steps being practiced by the central cast come out as ‘Hot Stuff’ is played whilst they wait to sign on.
And, despite the very early calls to “GET YOU KIT OFF, ALL OFF” from some tensely sexually aggressive audience members, the grand finale is genuinely fun and heartfelt.
Laugh out loud funny from start to finish, with poignant moments and a fantastic soundtrack throughout, The Full Monty is a great night out. One that will make some laugh, some wince, a few dance, and with a message still pertinent nearly three decades later.
The Full Monty 2023/24 UK tour – official trailer
The Full Monty runs at The Alexandra Theatre in Birmingham until Saturday 3 February, with tickets available from £26.00. Click here for more information and links to online ticket sales: www.atgtickets.com/shows/the-full-monty-the-play-by-simon-beaufoy/the-alexandra-theatre-birmingham
For more on The Full Monty 2024 UK tour, visit: www.fullmontytheplay.com
For more from The Alexandra Theatre, visit: www.atgtickets.com/venues/the-alexandra-theatre-birmingham