You turn if you want to. The lady’s not for turning.
Margaret Thatcher’s steely voice reverberates through the Noël Coward Theatre and the set is, appropriately, revealed to be the shell of a disused steel factory.
Simon Beaufoy, Oscar-nominated for his screenplay for the film, has himself adapted it for the stage, and director Daniel Evans has faithfully returned to the film’s soundtrack that includes songs by Donna Summer, Hot Chocolate and Tom Jones, while Robert Jones’s set amalgamates a steel mill, a street, a dole office and a working men’s club.
The storyline of The Full Monty is well-known; there is Gaz the ring-leader strapped for cash to pay maintenance arrears for his son, his best friend Dave overweight and depressed, with marital and self-image issues, the perennial misfit Lomper, and finally Gerald trying to maintain his standard of living and save face with his wife and the conservative club. Unemployed, trapped in purposeless lives and desperately trying to break the vicious circle of work club, chippie and endlessly wondering around Sheffield, they decide to become for a night “Chippendales Yorkshire style” and make it big. Their ranks are boosted with the misnamed Horse and the perky Guy with his amply filled trousers.
The play’s film origins are evident throughout; the episodic succession of scenes follows that of the film, as do many of the jokes and one-liners. Simon Beaufoy in an interview, included in the programme of the play, states that there was only one scene that he thought he had to include or there would be a riot; the rest was intended to give the audience a proper journey. If the scene he felt he had to include was the one where the men start dancing Hot Stuff on the dole line, that was the only scene that actually felt to me forced and unreal. Other than that the play was fast-paced, energetic and really funny.
The intense anti-Thatcher sentiment of the time is portrayed accurately, instead of watered down because of the passage of time and her death. Lomper’s attempted suicide scene, to escape his closeted life, was frighteningly realistic. The macho gruff camaraderie and laddish sense of humour are there as well. Yes, it could have done with a few less phallic one-liners and puns and personally I could live without the scene of the woman peeing standing up against the wall, even though the audience, especially the female half, seemed to lap it up.
The macho and gruff exterior of the characters is chipped away throughout and their vulnerabilities are revealed, but it’s their sense of humour and the newly rediscovered sense of companionship and inclusion that saves them from desperation. The Full Monty touches on issues of unemployment, poverty, depression, sexual equality, body image and homosexuality, even though it does not go too deep. The drama pierces through the levity.
The audience was certainly vocal in its approval, though I believe that the air of strip club and hen-night-gone-wild atmosphere it created occasionally, ultimately did the play a disservice because it is certainly more than “£10 to watch a bit of willy waving” as one of the characters put it.
A veritable crowd-pleaser, with sensitivity, wit and pathos.