Review: The Full Monty at Liverpool Empire ****1/2
It may be called The Full Monty, but the physical act of stripping forms a minor and momentary part of Simon Beaufoy’s thoughtful tragi-comedy.
Much more powerful is the symbolic nature of the striptease – of pride, self-worth and hope regained.
The Full Monty film came out in 1997 in to a brave new world of New Labour and Cool Britannia.
But the story is set a decade earlier, in 1988 Sheffield, when the booming ‘city of steel’ is now a windswept wasteland where tumbleweed and stonewash denim-clad looters (busy ‘liberating’ anything not nailed down) blow through the echoing emptiness of the silent dark steel-tanic mills – evoked by Robert Jones’s industrial set.
While the skilled but obsolete steel workers gather in a desultory and depressing ‘job club’, their other halves are packed in to the working men’s club roaring on hunky burlesque boy band the Chippendales. Or as a confused Gaz shouts belligerently at his mate Dave: “There’s a woofter waving his willy at your missus.”
Of course, you know the rest; auditions, arguments, sun beds, hot stuff dole queues, arrests, recriminations, and lots of gnomes.
The homegrown ‘bums of steel’ certainly generate bums on seats, with this straight stage version of the tale (as opposed to the Pittsburgh-set musical Full Monty) now on its fourth successful tour.
Hot stuff....The Full Monty
This latest production features a trio of actors – led by Gary Lucy as the cock-sure, laddish Gaz – who have been with it from the beginning, and another one now at the helm.
Rupert Hill, who played Guy in the first tour in 2014, directs with swagger but also plenty of heart which means while there are big laughs to be savoured, there are also moments of poignancy and thoughtfulness.
Lucy, whose Yorkshire accent still comes with an Essex twist, is eminently likeable as the hapless chancer who comes up with the idea of forming a stripping troupe, while the other two originals, Andrew Dunn as foreman Gerald and Louis Emerick as Horse, prove hugely entertaining anchors for this latest production in which all the actors appear to be having enormous fun.
Meanwhile Kai Owen, also returning from a previous outing, brings particular pathos to the role of Dave, the chubby sidekick with rock-bottom self-esteem, and newbies James Redmond and Joe Gill as Guy and the Eeyore-ish Lomper fit right in to complete what is a strong and very watchable ensemble.
Also a mention for Fraser Kelly, who returns, five years on, as young Nathan. He’s a confident young performer with genuine stage presence although, in all honesty, on the cusp of being too old for the role.