The Full Monty pulls into The Leeds Grand Theatre this month, heavily anticipated as an adaptation of one of the most successful British comedy films of the past twenty years.
Set in the 1980s and following the struggles of a group of unemployed Sheffield steel workers, the play tells the story of how a group of ordinary men resolve to stripping down and offering all they have in order to earn a living. The story particularly follows the plight of Gaz, who desperately wants to be a Father his son can be proud of.
Adapted for stage by the author of the movie, Simon Beaufoy delivers a script which is his first theatrical offering. Honed and refined to the story’s fundamental elements, the show benefits from the restriction of the stage and plays upon the oncoming theatrical ‘spectacle’ which the title cheekily promises. Presenting a downbeat and eroded Sheffield through the dirty windows of a dilapidated steelworks, the restrictive and immobile world of depressed Eighties Britain assumes a tangible reality, a stage of despair, which Beaufoy’s characters are desperate to escape from by means of extreme, physical performance. It is of course a hilarious plight but also a despairing, emotive fight with a balance of comedy and tragedy which is expertly pitched. It is also a damning attack on Thatcherism, dramatizing the destitution of the unemployed who resort to selling their bodies – albeit fleetingly – to earn a living in lieu of the death of British industry.
A superbly honed script for the stage is realised through a large and impressive cast. Simon Rouse delivers an earthy performance as Gerald, an aspirational middle-class manager who shamefully hides his unemployed status from his wife. Bitter yet warm at the core, Rouse is hilarious and emotionally stirring in equal measure. Kenny Doughty perfectly captures the vibrancy and verve of being a young father, evoking desperation with a physical Chaplin-quality which draws direct associations to The Kid. Roger Morlidge steals scenes with his realisation of the overweight and depressed Dave, whilst Sidney Cole as Horse is both delightful and endearing as the ailing soulster on constant verge of a heart attack. Craig Gacey’s Lomper is an irresistible suppression of campery whilst Kerian O’Brien’s physicality will no doubt impress many of the raucous females in the audience. Followers of Coronation Street will also note Tracy Brabin and Ian Mercer, playing a multitude of supporting characters in rapid succession. Brabin’s range is particularly impressive and expansive, magically flitting between middle-aged housewife and twenty-something party girl in an effortless flash. Mercer’s grotesque turn as a greasy, moustached landlord is equally delightful, bringing an element of ringmaster pomp to the production. A unique note must also go to Travis Caddy, who in this instance played Doughty’s son Travis with excellent comic timing and superb vocal clarity.
On a technical level the set is visually stunning, with a dirtied down and rustic quality which constantly evokes the awful social erosion of the Eighties. Equally lit with a delicate detail, the depressing scenes of a Job Centre and social club are perfectly realised, transporting the audience back to a recently forgotten time. A captivating visual spectacle, The Full Monty is theatre for a generation of audiences who demand detail and texture which is both realistic and innovative in its execution.
The Full Monty’s success resides in being not only a successful adaptation of a hit movie, but a wholly honed and perfected piece of comedy drama revitalised and improved for the stage. A show with great heart, building to an anxious and surprising finale, it trips all the sensations for a wide range of audiences. Refined, distilled and presented in its finest form, this production is entertainment stripped down to its very best, flashing with brilliance and exposing a period which is now topical and shockingly relevant to a new generation.