When The Full Monty first dominated our screens in 1997, there was a certain poignancy to the film which allowed it to resonate strongly amongst its audience; there was a relevance at the time which made it feel immediate and necessary. It thus seems somewhat confusing that Simon Beaufoy would make the choice to turn such an iconic film from screenplay to theatre script so many years on from its initial success. It’s a risky decision to make, but with the show’s premiere in 2013 there was definitely a certain anticipation which came with it.
Set in 1980s Sheffield, at the peak of the Thatcher era, the show follows a group of men who are jobless and dejected following the collapse of a steelworks which previously stood as a secure ground of industrial strength. The story begins with Gaz and Dave who have resorted to stealing scraps of steel from abandoned sites for a small profit, in order to keep their heads above water. Following the threat of losing access to his son Nathan, Gaz subsequently decides to bring a group of men together for a one-night stand as strippers in order to raise the cash which will allow him to see his son again.
The story itself is an important one, charting the impotence of unemployment; the men actively strip down to nothing, representing the stripping away of all self-worth and dignity which previously resided. However, the act of stripping is not simply a self-negating act, it also represents the choice of self-empowerment. In the acceptance of their nakedness, these men are re-valued in their own eyes, and through the eyes of one another.
Skipping to the Norwich Theatre Royal on a Monday evening, there is a full house – with a very specific demographic taking charge of the evening – all jittery with the awareness of the display which is about to unfold. As Gary Lucy takes to the stage as the charismatic Gaz, there is a wave of wolf-whistles. The expectation is thick in the air.
Despite an extensive career acting on-screen, this is Lucy’s first on-stage tour, and yet he holds himself well – his presence is immediate and warm and one is soon drawn under his spell. There is no doubt that the acting in this stage-production is second-to-none, and the story is told with the honesty it was always meant to be told with. The major themes are direct – nothing is glossed over, and we are still confronted with the gritty realism which pervades the film.
That said, however, it felt somewhat like these elements were never allowed to take off to full effect. The audience’s presence within the stalls created a strong sense of voyeurism – one was simply gagging for these men to take their clothes off, with little concern for the unfolding of their story. Often, the anticipation of the audience seemed to overwhelm any sense of plot development, and the characters we saw on stage were simply reduced to objects of the audience’s own gratification.
I admire Beaufoy’s attempt to adapt his best-loved comedy-drama to the stage, and the cast do an incredible job at bringing the production to life once more. However, the dynamic set up through the immediate presence of the audience becomes somewhat unsettling as our evening’s theatregoers transform the production into a ravenous feast.