REVIEW: The Full Monty (Theatre Royal, Brighton, until Saturday, December 13)

Gary Lucy in The Full Monty
Gary Lucy in The Full Monty

It’s hard to believe that a stage play that draws on such deep and emotional themes as unemployment, depression, homosexuality, attempted suicide, self image, Government reforms, and male relationships could ever be described as feelgood and buoyant.

Yet The Full Monty, adapted for the stage by Simon Beauvoy from his brilliant, memorable and much-loved film screenplay of 1997, most assuredly leaves the audience on a high even as it tackles the serious stuff. And it’s a credit to all involved that even though many in the audience just want it to be a show about male strippers (cue whoops of delight), the hard edge is never played down or lost.

The story of the out of work Sheffield steelworkers who decide to raise some much-needed cash by staging a strip show and going one better than the professional acts in the business by daring to go full frontal is well-known. The good news is that the screen to stage transfer loses nothing of its humour, its poignancy, and its old-fashioned charm.

Much of the kudos must go to the writer. The original film remains popular after 17 years, and the story lost none of its bite even when turned into a great and underappreciated musical set in the United States. Many of the familiar elements from the original film make it into the stage version – from the music to the hilarious dole queue dance practice.

But acclaim is also due to the perfect cast. Gary Lucy may be better known for his television roles and not have much by way of theatrical experience, but he plays the lead character Gaz with confidence and exudes pleasing stage presence. He takes charge but never overshadows the good work being done by his co-stars and we can only hope he is encouraged to do a lot more in future.

Each of the other main male “Buns of Steel” cast members is equally strong and they work together superbly. Martin Miller is lovable as the chubby Dave, Bobby Schofield charms as the sad and lonely Lomper who discovers true friendship from one of his fellows, Andrew Dunn has gravitas but also warmth as ex-foreman Gerald, Louis Emerick is a live wire as the arthritic Horse, and Rupert Hill wonderful as the liberated free-thinker Guy.

They are very nearly outshone by young Fraser Kelly, giving an assured, mature and winning performance as Gaz’s young son Nathan.

The whole production, directed so well by Roger Haines, is truly hot stuff and it is incredible and beyond belief to think that the original had to close its London run earlier this year after less than two months due to poor ticket sales. The West End’s loss is definitely regional theatres’ gain and it is a joy to find it proving such a crowd-pleaser.

You can keep your hat on – but you’ll be wanting to doff your cap to this first-class production, beautifully staged and wonderfully acted. It continues its 32-week tour in the New Year around the country – miss it at your peril.