Theatre Review: The Full Monty, Empire Theatre, Liverpool

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Image Source: ATG

Written By: Mark Armstrong

Format: Play
Genre: Comedy Drama
Date: November 7 2016
Location: Liverpool Empire Theatre

A production which brings the original 1997 movie to the theatre stage, the story of The Full Monty will be familiar to anybody who has seen the film. To those who haven’t seen the flick, though, the prospect of watching this show could potentially be a little awkward. After all, it’s about a group of wannabe male strippers; assuming that you don’t fit into the target audience, how awkward will it be sitting through a show that focuses on half a dozen men preparing to bare all?

Well, you need not worry, because the show is about more than stripping. A lot more, in fact, to the point where the clothes-shedding scenes are at a minimum. The story is actually an examination of British society during Thatcher’s problematic reign as Prime Minister, which led to job cuts, declining industries (such as the steel industry, which had previously provided jobs for the central characters here) and general malaise amongst the fortunes and morale of the working-class British people. The knock-on effect included the likes of proud men being unwilling to admit to their partners that they were now jobless (Gerald, played by Brian Dunn), fathers whose hearts were in the right place as opposed to their brains being involved in dodgy deals to try and keep their father-son relationships alive (Gaz, the main character who is played by Gary Lucy) and young men who had yet to achieve any real success, and whose gloomy thoughts convinced them that they never would (Lomper, played by Anthony Lewis).

It is a combination of their various personal and financial problems, along with a fair amount of jealousy at how the Chippendales were received by their somewhat-estranged partners, that convinces Gaz to conjure up the idea of he and his fellow down-and-outers to put on a stripping act, both to make money and to impress those who once loved them with total affection. It takes some time for Gaz to convince his best friend Dave (Kai Owen) to get involved, and over time, the duo manage to convince several other accomplices to participate, as well as holding some auditions (the results of which are tepid at best) to deliver a line-up that compares with the Chippendales in terms of numbers, if not quite in terms of sexual appeal.

There are further struggles involving almost every character, as each male has a reason to be involved, as well as having a reason to have trepidation (especially when Gaz reveals that they are going all the way with their strip act, hence the term “The Full Monty”), not to mention that the team have a real problem finding their rhythm and actually being able to pull it off (no pun intended). Relationships, personal emotions and sexual orientations are brought to the forefront at various points, and it’s hard not to have sympathy with each of the men whose lives have been challenged in some way by the changing societies, largely brought about by the decline of the country in general. Further problems threaten the show going ahead at all; as to whether the central characters overcome the odds and give the audience, erm, what they want – well, you’ll just have to watch the show to find out (wink, wink).

All of which may suggest that this is a serious drama. But while there are some serious moments, the show is almost entirely comedy. Everything is handled in a tongue-in-cheek fashion; even a scene where one character (Lomper) attempts suicide due to his sewer-low emotional state is presented in a manner that you can’t help but laugh, despite the grim nature of the content. The show is similar to Blood Brothers (which you can read my review of by clicking here) in that it handles working-class British life in a comedy-drama situation – but whereas Blood Brothers focused on drama more than comedy, here the drama aspect is minimal, with the comedic material taking centre stage. And, of course, the stripping scenes (which, as stated, are not as great in number as you may believe) are total comedy and a basis for sexually satisfying the ladies in attendance (more on the audience shortly).

As with the original film, the show is great, and a brilliant comedy-drama telling of this particular story. As noted, you have sympathy for all of the leading characters for different reasons, none more so than Gary Lucy’s Gaz character, who plays the bumbling yet good-intentioned father to a very high standard. James Burton is also excellent as Nathan, the young child who is innocent yet outspoken when need be, but remains a kid with the right attitude and helps his dad out at times of struggle. Amongst the other characters, there are strong performances all-round, although Anthony Lewis deserves immense credit for playing the troubled, simple and slow Lomper character who nevertheless keeps the audience laughing and earns plenty of sympathy, especially when he discusses his sexuality with the far more flamboyant Guy, played by Chris Fountain.

The comedy material is also very good; there are a ton of hilarious lines, with Gerald perhaps having the best one-liner when explaining why Gaz and Dave won’t succeed when the idea is first conceived (I won’t spoil the line here, although it was used in the movie). Unusually for a theatre show, there are no singing performances; granted, there was next-to-no singing in the film either, but the music is limited to the use of the original movie soundtrack as the backdrop for the more memorable scenes (those tunes include You Sexy Thing by Hot Chocolate, Hot Stuff by Donna Summer and You Can Leave Your Hat On by Tom Jones). The settings are largely kept simple, but it’s cool to see how the same general background is adjusted slightly to fit in with what is happening on-stage (a steel mill factory, the local job centre, the working men’s club etc). On the downside, the show started a little late, and as things had wrapped up by 10pm, the show as a whole felt a little brief (no pun intended).

I mentioned the audience earlier; unfortunately, the behaviour of the crowd hampered my enjoyment of The Full Monty. Let me clarify, because the wolf-whistles and wooing by the ladies in attendance is to be expected at a show like this, and loudly too. The problem I had is that a huge number of attendees, sat in different parts of the venue, wouldn’t stop talking during the show, especially during the quieter, more serious scenes. So much so that the theatre had to remind the audience during intermission not to talk, but it was to no avail. It was very distracting, and sadly meant that the behaviour of many in the seats stood out more than most aspects of the show when all was said and done.

Fortunately, though, it didn’t detract too much that one could not appreciate that The Full Monty was a very entertaining theatre show, with strong performances and high comedy throughout (not to mention an – ahem! – climax that will please the females). I wouldn’t necessarily put it amongst the best shows that I have seen this year, but it is definitely on the rung just below. And if you loved the 1997 movie, this is a thoroughly enjoyable recreation of what happened when a bunch of working-class lads decided that the solution to their various problems was to get their kit off.

Overall Rating: 8/10 – Very Good