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The Full Monty (tour - Canterbury, Marlowe Theatre)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Although the posters for this production proclaim "with songs from the movie", this is not a musical. In the case of The Full Monty, "songs from the movie" means that, in between scenes, songs from the movie are played and in the few stripping/rehearsing scenes, you’ll hear a few bars.

So, not a musical. And that’s a good thing, because there has, of course, already been a musical version of The Full Monty, and it was terrible. No – this play by the film’s writer Simon Beaufoy – takes its lead from the award-winning 1997 film and is all the better for it.

With many scenes and lines lifted wholesale from the movie, there is no singing, very little dancing, and far more emphasis on character. In fact, it's the characters that make this play.

On the face of it, the broad comedy and dick jokes aren’t particularly sophisticated, but dig a little deeper and what’s uncovered is a surprisingly thoughtful study of the male psyche and issues surrounding it, such as not feeling ‘man’ enough, not making enough money to support the family, body issues, sexuality and paternity rights.

For "that show about stripping", there really isn't an awful lot of stripping going on.

Despite what some parts of the audience may have been expecting, The Full Monty isn’t titillating in the least. The men are not particularly good-looking or well-built, rather, they're just normal blokes – driven to unlikely lengths to alleviate boredom and make some money.

In terms of onstage talent, the cast is a mixed bag, with some quite wonderful performances and others that are... not so wonderful. The standout is Simon Rouse as Gerald, the ex-boss forced to search for work alongside previous workers and hiding his unemployment from his wife. His performance is excellent from start to finish, owning the stage and handling comedy and pathos with aplomb.

Lead role Gaz (Robert Carlyle in the film) is played by Kenny Doughty who is solid lynchpin, but who took a while to find his feet. The same can be said of most of the cast; even the play itself. It feels awkward and stuttering for most of the first act, only really getting going once we establish what the men are planning to do.

The play also has the dubious honour of having one of the worst on-stage performances ever witnessed. With her inability to project and school-play level acting, Caroline Carver as Gaz's estranged wife Mandy generated giggles and whispers every time she took the stage. Mercifully, Mandy has few lines.

Alarm bells also rang when it became apparent that Gaz’s son Nathan was going to be quite a large role. Fortunately, director Daniel Evans uses a collection of young actors who are natural and likeable – in this performance an excellent Jay Olpin.

The remarkable set can’t go without mention either. The first scene (as so many of the other key moments) takes place in a vast, derelict factory and, although we get to see inside job centres and working mens’ clubs, the monumental edifice never truly leaves. Always present, it’s a constant, towering reminder of what once was.

Although The Full Monty is set in the late 80s, the story could be taking place today, with its backdrop of austerity, unemployment and hopelessness.

If you’re looking for a night of debauchery – this isn’t it. Nonetheless, come the finale and the famous dance played out to Tom Jones’ "You can leave your hat on", there is a grand sense of euphoria in the audience. It’s a brilliant moment, that leaves everyone (male, female, gay, straight) grinning like an idiot.


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