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The Full Monty Has Northern Soul

The Full Monty

To quote Simon Beaufoy, writer of both The Full Monty film and play scripts; “Who would have thought a film in which there is impotence, unemployment, despair and suicide attempts would be described as ‘feelgood’?” But a night at the stage version at Blackpool Grand Theatre really does leave you with a smile on your face and spring in your step, and we are reminded why this story of unemployed Sheffield steelworkers, which hit our cinema screens in 1997, has become a British Classic.

The original film cast have become some of our most highly respected and best beloved actors, however the stage cast ably carry this newly adapted script on their own terms; even when the rhythm of the language is so invested in the Yorkshire dialect that it must have been difficult to find a new way of speaking the lines without it feeling like an impression of the original characters, they find ways of making them their own. In a strong company, Martin Miller who plays best-friend Dave, Andrew Dunn (butt of jokes and fancy footed former foreman Gerald) and Emily Aston who is Jean (Dave’s long-suffering wife) deserve special mention. Lead man Gary Lucy does a fine job of carrying the central character and likeable rogue Gary, even if his accent itself is a little rogue – pretty much throughout.

Mostly the script is faithful to the original and so there’s anticipation of certain moments of humour as well as pathos. However, there are enough sections with enough difference to keep it interesting. Beaufoy says of this process: “It’s not just transposing one to the other, it’s rethinking, reconfiguring, taking the machine apart and putting it back together again in a slightly different order.” Gladly the soulful soundtrack is exactly the same including the gorgeous linking reprise that’s reminiscent of the brass band culture, whose role is almost completely omitted from the stage version, albeit for understandable reasons.

The set is a stunningly slick steelworks that cleverly transforms to both Conservative Club and Job Club with a neat bit of door sliding and chair moving; this gritty, grey, smashed glass and broken machinery backdrop serves as a reminder of where we are both in time and place: Kudos to Designer Robert Jones for finding a clear and dynamic linking visual-language.

While we know we’re in a different era (both to the film and the original setting), the parallels for today’s society are prominent. Beaufoy says of the relevance: “We’re back in an era of unemployment, but it’s not the unemployment of a great manufacturing country going bankrupt; it’s a different form. It’s more across the board; less defined, less visible, but it’s just as damaging. The emotions of hopelessness, of being cast adrift by society, are the same.”

The main difference between this piece and the film is the audience energy that is provoked; the theatre was packed to the rafters with gangs of women; shrieking, cheering, whooping women who punctuated all slight flashes of flesh, each hip wiggle and every one-liner with their appreciation; reaching deafening heights when the ‘lunchbox’ lands at the end of Act One.

Of course, the piece is designed to be a night of entertainment and it’s exciting to experience the theatre so full of energy, laughter and audience ownership but, at risk of sounding prudish, there’s something slightly uncomfortable about the heckling. In some ways it demeans the sensitivity of some of the themes, at times over-whelming the subtle self-deprecating humour and tragicomedy of the overall situation, but ultimately it reduces the rest of the play to pure titillation for the final strip tease moment. Unfortunately this reductive reaction was disappointing, distracting and, at times, inappropriate but this is no fault of the production.

The Full Monty plays at Blackpool Grand Theatre until Saturday 19 September and tickets can be bought online, by phone on 01253 290 190  or in person at the Box Office.

Reclaim Blackpool - Mapping Sexual Harrasment
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    Melanie Whitehead is the Creative Director of The Old Electric, Blackpool's newest theatre. She previously worked for the Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theatre.

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