Review - 'The Full Monty' 2014
In 2008 Tim Firth adapted the screenplay he had co-written for the 2003 film Calendar Girls for the stage in a production that premiered at Chichester and toured before and arriving at the West End's Noel Coward Theatre in 2009, where it became a huge popular success. Now, repeating the almost identical formula, another screenwriter Simon Beaufoy has adapted his own 1997 script for The Full Monty, and after premiering in the city of Sheffield where it is actually set last year, it has likewise toured before arriving in town, again at the Coward Theatre.
This could be said to be an equal opportunities reply of theatrical nudity. And while the eponymous calendar girls of the Women's Institute were baring their breasts for charity, the unemployed former steelworkers of The Full Monty are agreeing to show their all for a cause closer to home: to help Gaz, one of their number, pay his child maintenance to his former wife so that he can keep seeing his son.
The two shows also share the fact that none of those stripping are exactly model types: they could be you and me. And that bonds them straight away with audiences. Though neither show is exactly theatrically subtle, they instantly engender a wonderful, warm rapport on both sides of the footlights, and it's positively infectious. As I looked around at the beaming faces around me, I found myself beaming, too.
As well as revealing their private lives, they'll (eventually) show their privates, too (though - spoiler alert - their modesty is somewhat protected by a blinding flash of backlight at the pivotal moment). A previous Broadway stage musical version of The Full Monty relocated the action to Buffalo, NY, but this new play faithfully brings the action back to its native Sheffield.
Director Daniel Evans has also returned to the film's soundtrack that includes songs by Donna Summer, Hot Chocolate and Tom Jones, to provide a version of a story the audience already knows so well. "You already know you're going to love it," goes the advertising tagline to Mamma Mia!, and much the same thing could be said for audiences arriving to see this. It is a wittily affectionate, frame-for-frame, joke-for-joke recreation of the film.
Those film origins are also apparent in the show's structural flow of distinct episodic scenes, even if they are mostly played out on a unit set of Robert Jones's impressively recreated shell of the now disused steelworks, soon to be pulled down to be turned into luxury canalside flats.
Returning the six men to where their lives and careers were effectively stopped, as they search for new ways to escape their impoverishment and discover a new sense of empowerment, brings their past and present into dramatic collision.
Beaufoy also retains the warmth of the characterisation and camaraderie that the men find in each other, and a lot of his jokes from the original film. It has the added pleasure of a cast who make it enjoyably fresh (with real flesh - and one prosthetic penis as well on show, too), but there's not an Adonis amongst them.
Instead, there's sincerity and integrity, with lovely performances from Kenny Doughty as Gaz, the father desperately trying to maintain his relationship with his son Nathan, and Roger Morlidge as his friend Dave, finding his own marriage under strain and his belly bulging, but learning that a new sense of self-respect can be found in friendship and a group endeavour.
There's terrific work, too, from Sidney Cole's Horse, Craig Gazey's Lomper, Simon Rouse's Gerald and Kieran O'Brien's Guy, each with their own back stories (or in Guy's case, an imposing front story in his well-stocked briefs) that have brought them here.
You could, of course, rent (or buy) the film for a few pounds, but the theatre makes it more real, inhabited and uninhibited.
"There isn’t a weak link in the cast and the whole show goes off like a rocket, not least in the climactic scene, in which these brave, awkward and desperate men do the full monty to the uproarious delight of the audience. ."
Charles Spencer for The Telegraph
"Simon Beaufoy's stage version of his much-loved 1997 film now gyrates into the West End and looks destined to be as wildly popular as the celluloid original.."
Paul Taylor for The Independent
"I am all for people having a good time. But in place of indignation at the insult to human dignity of unemployment, the show becomes a chip off the old Chippendales."
Michael Billington for The Guardian
"Strikes a balance between pants-down raucousness and buttoned-up restraint, which allows the characters and relationships to develop appealingly"
Henry Hitchings for The Evening Standard