Not so much a show, more of a theatrical phenomenon. The Full Monty hits town this week, and it’s a production that will blow your socks off – and everything else - writes Kevin Anderson.
On Monday night a packed Congress Theatre auditorium, probably eight-tenths female, was simply teetering with anticipation.
Even the usual pre-curtain “phones off and no photography” announcement drew light-hearted groans and sighs.
This audience was intent on a good time, and the guys on stage delivered in full.
The Full Monty is rooted in a dour 1980s Sheffield, and Robert Jones’s superbly authentic set clanks and clangs with the echoing depression, physical and psychological, of a closed-down steel factory. You can almost smell the decay.
Indeed, the politics of the time is woven into the narrative. These were the years of miners’ strikes and old-fashioned class warfare. And one priceless line sums up the great divide: when one of the lads has doubts about taking a job in the Con Club kitchens, his mates reassure him: “You can’t catch Conservatism by washing up their dishes...!”
Jack Ryder directs briskly, and the acting beautifully fits the style of the show.
There is more than a hint of the scally about Gary Lucy’s prime mover Gaz, engaging and seemingly incorrigible. Each unlikely partner in his joint enterprise adds to the mix: a convincingly gauche Lomper from Bobby Schofield stands out, and Martin Miller’s endearing Dave has a lovely, credible relationship with wife Jean (Emily Aston).
Andrew Dunn’s Gerald also draws sympathy, clutching for some dignity by hiding his unemployment from wife Linda (Isabel Ford) for months on end. Knowingly gorgeous Rupert Hill as Guy and Louis Emerick’s endearing but washed-up Horse complete the incongruous line-up.
The role of Nathan, Gaz’s son, is rotated between four young actors, and on Monday Fraser Kelly was absolutely superb, as the lad who wants a proper Dad and role-model just as desperately as Gaz wants to be one. His pithy wry humour, and common sense beyond his years, make Nathan an ironic foil for the older men’s half-baked plans.
Simon Beaufoy’s writing has a flow of witty one-liners, a pacey plot and, of course, a hilarious sequence of dance rehearsals which teases the audience along as the lads progress from initial incompetence to the dazzling final reveal.
So, an unblemished triumph? Not quite.
The story is an airbrushed version of social realism. Out of work, empty of prospects, you might expect the guys to show some real despair. Instead, in Act One especially, there is little more than a resigned shrug of the shoulders as they fritter their days away at the Job Club. Even young Lomper’s clumsy attempt at suicide, a briefly shocking moment, is treated as pure gallows humour. The laughs in this production are loud, but they drown out the pathos. It is an opportunity missed.
The Full Monty movie was more successful in balancing the humour with the poignancy, but of course on film there is no live audience. The stage show is not simply audience-pleasing, it’s actually audience-driven. And fair play: a cheering, rapturous Congress Theatre audience loved it from start to finish. You can’t argue with that.