The Full Crew: Gaz played by Kenny Doughty, Lomper, Craig Gazey, Guy, Keiran O'Brien, Gerald, Simon Rouse, Horse, Sidney Cole and Dave, Roger Morlidge

The Full Monty

Birmingham Hippodrome

*****

THEY roared with laughter, hooted suggestively as only posses of women on a girls' night out can hoot and leapt to their feet as one at the end to clap and cheer – so  it is fair to say Simon Beaufoy's adaptation of his 1997 hit film can be classed as a triumph.

But this is far beyond get yer kit off for the lasses territory, underneath the laughs, and there are an awful lot of laughs, is a serious play. The film centred on Sheffield, the Steel City, where a whole industry vanished almost overnight, two industries if you include coal.

That is still the background to the stage play although it has a renewed relevance as the audience  face a new wave of austerity, new job losses, indignities and hardships. Whether you have seen the film or not matters not a jot, Beaufoy has done much more than plonk a successful film into a stage setting, he has taken his original story, taken it apart and rebuilt it as a play, a new venture, standing firmly on its own two feet; a new telling of the same tale.

Gaz, played by Kenny Doughty, is a Jack-the-lad with a prison record, no job after the local steelworks closed down,.a broken marriage and mounting maintenance arrears which are threatening to lose him  access to his son Nathan, played on opening night by Jay Olpin.

His big mate, in every sense of the word, is Dave, played by Roger Morlidge, who lost his job as crane operator in the same steelworks. Dave is on a permanent diet and still puts on weight while his marriage has its own problems to worry about.

The characters of the lifelong friends are the cornerstone of the production and Doughty and Morlidge shepherd the story along magnificently with Gaz's chaotic life never quite under control and Dave's life a litany of gallows' humour.

Gaz finds an appearance by male strippers The Chippendale's at the local working mens' club disgusting – until he finds the place was packed - and what they earned. So as his views on decency succumb to the needs of desperation  The Bums of Steel were born, and not only would they strip, but they were going to gp one better than The Chippemdales - they would do the Full Monty!

Auditions bring in a line up of failed suicide Lomper, dynamic as a used teabag who lives with his mum, played by Craig Gazey, then there is arthritic, lumbago and sciatica ridden northern soul leftover Horse, played by Sidney Cole.

There is gay Guy, played by Keiran O'Brien, who can't dance but has another point of . . . interest for the mainly female audience. The men in the audience meanwhile were left with uneasy doubts, feelings of inadequacy and fervent hopes that Guy was not . . . average.

Finally there is Gerald, the former foreman, played with snobbish aloofness by Simon Rouse, who not only thinks he is a cut above the mere workers, but to prove it is a member of the Conservative Club!

The Bums of Steel hanging around waiting for their big moment.

But as poverty bites and despair grows even Gerald is recruited, initially for his ballroom dancing skills but then for the camaraderie which grows through hardship to the final, defiant, one night only, full Monty in the club.

Along the way we follow Gaz's rocky relationship with wife Mandy, Caroline Carver, and his developing bond with Nathan. Then there is Dave's uneasy marriage to bubbly Jean, Rachel Lumberg and, perhaps the saddest and most poignant of all, we follow the rail crash course of Gerald's marriage to Linda, Tracy Brabin.Then in the background there are Guy and Lomper . . .

Apart from the excellent and wholly believable leads bouncing off each other there is fine support from a small cast of six taking on every other part without ever once appearing to be doubling up.

The show is packed with the humour that is the life blood of those locked into industrial disputes, whether strikes or redundancies and their aftermath;  the British trait of finding humour in any situation, no matter how bleak or black. But it also looks at homosexuality, impotence, suicide and despair, father's rights, destruction of lives and communities as industries are abandoned, social comment and the fear and shame of losing jobs and livelihoods. Like I said, this is not just a great laugh, it is also a cracking play with a powerful story.

It is helped by a clever set by Robert Jones which gives us a derelict factory, windows stained with scores of years of industrial grime, complete with the factory crane Margaret named, with heavy irony, after Margaret Thatcher.

Vanishing up or dropping down we get instant job centres, job clubs, the Tory Club, police station, back of the working mens'club and a stage fit for strippers.

It is lit very cleverly by Tim Lutkin who dramatically highlights characters in scene changes and creates separate scenes out of the darkeness.

Director Daniel Evans keeps up a good pace and makes sure the story is never lost among the one liners with the result that The Full Monty is a thoroughly entreating evening with something for everyone, a serious play wrapped in a glorious comedy and with enough spice to keep a whole flock of hen nights happy – and yes they do the full Monty and it is, er, dazzling - thanks to some blush saving lighting.

The show is heading for t'West End after its tour so them Southerners are in fer a reet gradely Northern treat.  To 02-03-13

Roger Clarke

For those who wondered there are a number of theories as to the origin of the full Monty, many referring to Field Marshall Montgomery in the Second World War but up t'north it has always been though to refer to Leeds' based mens' outfitters Montague Burton.

After the war, in 1946, Burton's was offering a men's suit, complete with waistcoat, shirt, tie and underwear at a special price, the full Monty. 

Home Lichfield Garrick Belgrade Hippodrome Grand Alex Malvern Rep RSC  Town Hall Reviews A-Z Reviews by Theatre