_REVIEW.   it’s about _THEATRE.   words _KYLE PEDLEY.
  at _THE ALEXANDRA.   tickets _OFFICIAL SITE.   booking until _3rd FEB.

January 31, 2024

images © Ellie Kurttz.

It’s mildly depressing to concede that this latest touring production of Simon Beaufoy’s The Full Monty arrives with even greater resonance than it did but a few short years again when Gary Lucy and friends opted to bare all.

Switch out nineties recession with noughties cost of living, Maggie Thatcher with whichever Conservative Leader is in post by the time this review is written and published, and the decimated steel industry with, well, an even more decimated steel industry (we see you, Port Talbot), and the story of a jobless, down-on-his-luck young dad (Eastenders’ Danny Hatchard) trying to make ends meet feels soberingly current.

Sure, it’s a play – and particularly a production – positively dripping with nineties aesthetic and sound (Boyzone, M People and Gina G amongst those ringing out over scene transitions), but it isn’t difficult to imagine it all playing out in Sheffield circa 2024.

That isn’t to say it’s a downer, though; quite the contrary. Whilst it may occasionally bandy with heady fare such as suicide, destitution, repressed sexuality, male body image and more, much like the Oscar-winning film from which it is derived, this is first and foremost an uplifting, uproariously funny comedy.

“Whilst it may occasionally bandy with heady fare such as suicide, destitution, repressed sexuality and more… this is first and foremost an uplifting, uproariously funny comedy.”

It follows the bonhomie and hijinks of Gaz (Hatchard) and best mate Dave (Neil Hurst) who, fed up with fruitless visits to the job centre, outstanding demands for child maintenance, and fresh off the closure of their steelworks plant, decide to throw caution (and some skimpy thongs) to the wind, and cash in on some of that Chippendales’ dough by putting together a strip act all of their own.

The motley, unlikely lads troupe of randoms and down-and-outs that Gaz assembles is where Monty finds much of its humour and heart. The closeted, sensitive security guard pulled back from the brink. The tightly wound, gnome-adoring Tory who has yet to tell his credit card-wielding wife that he’s been out of a job for the past six months. The arthritic, ironically-monikered pensioner who can still cut a rug with the best of them.

It’s the underdog, against-all-odds hutzpah and endearing normality of its brotherhood of buttock-barers that makes this such an endearing and entertaining watch. It is all of the foibles, flaws and insecurities – physical and beyond – that make these ‘fellas’ decidedly not the Chippendales, that is precisely what makes them so likeable and earnest to root for.

Danny Hatchard puts in a solid central turn as Gaz, conflicted and enterprising yet still cocksure enough (not to mention, a bit of a gobshite) to understand why ex-wife Mandy (Laura Matthews) may be reaching for the court papers. Neil Hurst is fantastic and authentic throughout as the dry, sarcastic Dave, both regularly laugh-out-loud funny whilst also doing great work with the quieter moments of insecurity and marital tensions. Katy Dean makes for an excellent scene sparring partner as Dave’s loving but frustrated wife, Jean.

“Quickenden gets some of the biggest laughs (not to mention eye-openers… just you wait for the Act I closer) of the night…”

Nicholas Prasad brings a quiet, nervy energy to security guard ‘Lomper’, and gets some nicely observed moments of tenderness with Jake Quickenden’s hunky, unashamedly gay plasterer. Quickenden gets some of the biggest laughs (not to mention eye-openers… just you wait for the Act I closer) of the night, and is terrific fun throughout. The audience, understandably, offered up plenty of hollering and swooning when his gear in particular eventually started coming off (though this particular reviewer could have done without quite so many shouts of ‘Jake’ from over-eager audience members). Bill Ward, meanwhile, is similarly good fun as uptight former foreman turned dance instructor, Gerald, and is also, it must be said, in particularly impressive physical shape.

With such a strong cast (with a shoutout to an hilarious Adam Porter Smith on multiple, scene-stealing supporting duties) and a proven script, it’d be easy for director Michael Gyngell and designer Jasmine Swan to rest on their laurels, but from the off it is clear this is no tepid retread of what has come before. Swan’s shifting, rotating rubric’s cube of a set is a looming, impressive industrial presence, playing with levels and perspective throughout, and is both deceptively versatile and multi-functional. Andrew Exeter‘s lighting keeps things mostly real (with one or two showier exceptions) and casts a sense of depth and grit to Swan’s beneath-the-fingernails worldbuilding.

Sparks fly out from derelict machinery. Steel girders lift, drop and flick about the stage. A depiction of attempted suicide is gobsmackingly real, immediate and physical. It all makes for a handsome and impressive production; one that is a notable step up in terms of staging and production value from its predecessors. Gyngell imbibes much of the show with flourishes of energy and added detail that, whilst not necessarily needed, flesh out the show and make it feel all the more real and purposeful as a piece of staged entertainment.

As a perfect example of life imitating art, The Full Monty clearly knows its audience. Many will flock to the show (the performance being reviewed notably packed) out of familiarity with the film, due to it being perfect hen night/girls night out fare, and of course, the cheeky, tantalising promise of that title.

So come for the abs and bums (and the promise of even more) by all means, but stay for the laughter, heart and charm of what is undoubtedly a modern British classic that is, ultimately, an ode to the fortitude, cheekiness and loveable imperfection of the everyman.

Warts, rolls, stretch marks, imperfections, shortcomings and all… The Full Monty lays it all bare, and is all the better for it; a feast for the eyes, heart and funny bone, all at once.

Looking for some ‘hot stuff’? Here is a quality example of staging a revival with vision and flare, without sacrificing or trampling on the earthy, everyday relatability of its story and characters. A funny, heartwarming and cheeky modern British classic.


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