BWW Review: THE FULL MONTY, New Wimbledon Theatre
Based on his 1997 smash hit film and adapted for the stage by Oscar-winning writer Simon Beaufoy, The Full Monty is the bittersweet story of a group of unemployed Sheffield steelworkers who, inspired by a local Chippendale show, turn to stripping to raise some much-needed money.
The dry Northern humour and very human stories made the film a British classic. Despite some great reviews and being nominated for an Olivier Award, the West End version of the show lasted just over a month but has been a touring production for a number of years.
Beaufoy's careful adaptation of his screenplay concentrates around the central story of Gaz and the risk that his ex-wife is going to cut all access to his son Nathan because he owes months of maintenance payments.
The production stays very faithful to the film and as a result, it is a genuinely uplifting production that tackles unemployment, suicide, impotence, body image and homosexuality with wit and care. Raucous comedy sits alongside moments of genuine heartbreak. As the group build up to getting their clothes off, they rebuild their dignity.
Hollyoaks actor Gary Lucy appears to appreciative audience whoops as Gaz, but is the weak link here. He is a capable actor, but is miscast; he is too clean cut to be credible as a man who has spent years grinding away in a steel works. His Sheffield accent is also inconsistent and the gruff voice he puts on results in lines being lost.
However, the relationship he has with son Nathan, played with beautiful earnestness by Fraser Kelly, is touching and sensitive.
The show is saved by the rest of a very strong cast who carry the show with a finely balanced mixture of humour and pathos. Kai Owen is a standout as the amiable Dave, struggling with body image and impotence. Owen is completely believable as he reflects the very real face of a man emasculated through unemployment. Liz Carney has a small part as Dave's worried wife Liz, but is very convincing and the couple have a poignant chemistry.
Thankfully, the production retains all its iconic songs. Snippets of Joy Division, Madness and U2 create a real sense of the time and place. The scene in the job centre queue where the group practice their moves to Donna Summer's 'Hot Stuff' remains as hilarious as ever.
Robert Jones' design is inventive, using a detailed and multi-levelled industrial space as the inside of the steel works. With a few clever twists, the same space becomes the working men's club, the job centre and the surrounding streets.
Like Billy Elliot, the production tackles the human cost of Thatcher's decisions that laid waste to swathes of Northern industry. Whatever your politics, it's impossible not to be moved by the very personal stories of the cost of unemployment to human dignity and sense of self-worth. It may be a story about strippers, but it lacks any sense of titillation, remaining a production with a huge heart.
Photo Credit: Bonnie Britain