SheffIeld Theatres, under the stewardship of its artistic director Daniel Evans, continues to produce the hits. As this production of The Full Monty, visiting Bath for two weeks before it arrives in the West End, proves, Evans has arrived at a formula of big, crowd pleasing spectacles. A play that promises such a ‘big' reveal at the end, is bound to sell tickets to a majority of the theatre buying public, what is great to report is that there is enough for the husbands and boyfriends to enjoy as well.
Simon Beaufoy's original concept for the film feels very theatrical anyway and so works a treat. Its story concerns Gaz (Kenny Doughty- a more boyish presence than Robert Carlyle in the film) who needs to raise money to pay maintenance for his son (Jack Hollington on press night - scene stealer) in order to continue seeing him. Seeing the success a group of touring Chippendales have had, he decides to form a male strip group with others on the dole queue.
Interestingly in a piece that by its nature will draw heavily on female clientele, it is a play that mostly addresses the issues of being a man: of the ego when they hit a rough patch, of friendships, of how to be a good father and husband. What was great about the film, and what is now great about this play, is how well coloured each of the characters are, they don't just become mouthpieces of a different aspect of the male psyche, but live, breathe and interact in an honest, very funny way.
Under the sure direction of Daniel Evans, there are vivid and charged performances from all the ensemble. Roger Morlidge provides many of the evening's loudest laughs as Gaz's overweight best friend, who has been unable to fulfil his marital duties with his wife for the past 6 months. Rachel Lumberg invests that part with humour and pathos - the only criticism in Beaufoy's script is she appears to be the only female character who has actually been given anything meaningful to do. When the characters re-unite, you almost felt the audience sigh in relief.
But all of the men in the strip group are good and have their moment to shine. Lomper (Craig Gazey), who originally we see attempting to hang himself - "I would try drowning, but I can't swim" - discovers his identity when Kieran O'Bryan's Guy swaggers onto the scene and ignites a hidden passion within him. Simon Rose, as the older man and Gaz's former boss, has lied to his wife about being unemployed, but finds that his passion for dancing soon comes in handy. And Sidney Cole, as Horse (we learn a ‘small' secret about why that particular nickname) battles through arthritis to perform a jumping splits as the men finally perform the climatic strip.
There is enough spectacle in Robert Jones' set to let you know this is destined for London, and there is enough heart, charm and laughs to ensure a successful run once there. And for those of a more base persuasion, yes you really do get a ‘Full Monty', though some clever lighting at least preserves a tiny bit of the actors modesty.
Untill 15 February then at the Noel Coward 20 February-14 June.
- Kris Hallett