REVIEW: THE FULL MONTY (Sunderland Empire) ★★★★★

The Full Monty Sunderland

The Full Monty arrives in Sunderland this week, rude crude and ridiculously funny, but you can leave your hat on!

In a packed to the rafters theatre, on springlike Monday evening, there was an air of expectation in the predominantly female audience. The oestrogen overloaded ladies weren’t all young either, there was a large number of women who wouldn’t see 60 again and a few who’d not see 70 either!

The 1997 film The Full Monty, about six Sheffield steelworkers who decide to try and make a bit of cash by putting on a strip show and became something of a sensation. Oscar-winning writer Simon Beaufoy has adapted his hit film into a stage show, more a play with music, dancing and, of course, stripping. It is poignant at times, touches on some serious issues and is absolutely hilarious most of the time.

Set in the late 1980s, it tells the story of a group of skilled men laid off from a Sheffield steel mill who aim to raise some much needed cash by mounting a one-off strip show, and is delivered with dry humour and an infectiously upbeat finish.

Two of the men, Gaz (Gary Lucy) and Dave (Kai Owen), are best friends. Gaz hasn’t quite grown up yet and fails at responsibility, even though he has a 12-year-old son, Nathan and an ex-wife, Mandy (Charlotte Powell), demanding he pay his child support or risk joint custody.

Those who were there for more than to admire a soap star body or two were also treated to some cracking acting performances, it would be very easy to write Gary Lucy off as just another soap actor but you’d be a fool to do so. Aside from a dodgy Sheffield accent (I was brought up near Sheffield and I’m a purist) he did pull off the part quite well. He gave depth to the part of an unemployed, part-time dad, desperate to see son Nathan, but too skint to pay the child maintenance.

With four boys sharing the part – James Burton, Monty Poole, Reiss Ward and Felix Yates – Nathan is a loveable character. It wasn’t a cutesy child part by any stretch of the imagination, with the character having to cope with the breakup of his parents marriage, his father’s unemployment and the ongoing court procedures, but he had faith and love for his father and it’s a touching father and son relationship.

There is superb work from the others too – from Kai Owens as the obese Dave whose self-image because of his weight, and lack of a job, is so bad it’s hurting his relationship with his loving wife, Jean (Fiona Skinner). And a delightfully oddball performance from Anthony Lewis as the gay and initially suicidal Lomper. The scene in the job club is a joy, where Lomper is happy to be there as he never saw anyone when he was a security guard but now he has friends, warmth, dominoes and tea.

Comical Horse (Louis Emerick) has the audience in stitches as he arrives for his dance audition supported by a walking stick and struggling with a dodgy hip! Pompous gnome-loving Gerald (played by Andrew Dunn) is desperate to hide his redundancy from wife Linda. Each has their own back stories, or in Chris Fountain’s portrayal of Guy’s case, an impressive front story in his well-stocked briefs.

Special mention Pauline Fleming, playing multiple characters, but her role of Bee who whips down her knickers, baring her backside to all as she pee’s up against the Club wall sets the tone for the entire play.

The Full Monty touches on some serious issues – unemployment, depression, poverty, body image and homosexuality to name a few – but as well as being touching it is also very funny. Beaufoy’s play has warmth of characterisation and camaraderie that the men find in each other, and keeps lot of jokes from the original film. It has the added pleasure of a cast who make it enjoyably fresh, but there’s not an Adonis amongst them.

Robert Jones’ set is huge and magnificent, working well as a disused steelworks, job club, Conservative club and the stage where the action finally takes place and the Ian West’s choreography is also fabulous. The soundtrack that includes songs by Donna Summer, Hot Chocolate and Tom Jones is familiar and you know what to expect.

And do they go the Full Monty? Only a trip to Sunderland Empire before Saturday 25 March will answer that question!

Reviewed by Lindsay Sykes
Photo: Matt Crockett