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Stripped and gearing up (or down) for the dreaded display. But what comes off next . . .

The Full Monty

The Old Joint Stock


The Full Monty began life as the 1997 20th Century Fox film starring Tom Wilkinson, Robert Carlyle, Mark Addy and other wags who finally – after much dithering and debating - get their togs off and show all (or almost all, albeit shy to the end).

It was a treat, seen by some (a friend of mine, actually) as part of a trilogy of social comment films – Billy Elliot, Brassed Off and this one: akin to, say, Ken Loach’s Kes and Cathy Come Home, Mike Leigh (passim), or Alan Sillitoe’s The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (Tom Courtenay, Julia Foster).

It turned into a musical as quickly as 2000 (in the US), 2002 (the UK), with a delicious script by Terrence McNally (playwright of social commentaries Andre’s Mother, Lips Together, Teeth Apart and the fatwa-inducing Corpus Christi: openly gay and happily married, and 80 years old this autumn) and Music and racy Lyrics by David Yazbek (soon to create the musical of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, currently showing at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe till Sunday 26 August). 

It has been taken up by amateur and professional groups throughout Britain, and this staging by Adam Lacey at Birmingham’s marvellously clever and inventive Old Joint Stock Theatre, just opposite St. Philip’s Anglican Cathedral, doesn’t let it down for a moment.


The hilarious Kirsty Cartwright as the gloriously ghastly Jeanette

Lacey and Producer Karl Steele have amassed a super cast to jump through the hoops of social distress (wife and son problems), unemployment (‘You have no idea how exhausting unemployment can be’), forlorn hope and ultimately the brave bums-on-show solution. I didn’t see a duff performer. The splendidly costumed girls (Pippa Lacey, also the choreographer) have a key role, and Sam Carlyle (Georgie), Auriol Hatcher (Pam), Jenefer Trapp (Vicky) and Kirsty Cartwright (the suitably ghastly, rhythmically adroit Jeanette) all oozed personality. The domestic battles (Georgie with co-lead Dave Bukatinsky, Pam with moody group leader Jerry Lukowski) were realistic as well as fun. As tarty and/or busty floozies at the start they launched the show on its brilliant trajectory.  

Young Cartwright (also the busty Estelle) stole the thunder, as I guess she’s supposed to. All witty hand gestures, provocative looks, gum-chewing and general flouncing, a giggle a minute, and a professional actress by miles: Richard Rodgers’ No Strings, The Railway Children (as a Musical), The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe (ditto), plus Sondheim. Like several of the others, she must be going places. 

But I suppose here the blokes are central. And we were treated to one beautiful – well, talented – performance after another. Oliver Britten’s Dave was a hugely attractive, deeply reflective character, perfectly exploring his own internal Angsts. Even more so, Duncan Burt (an OJSC veteran) as Malcolm McGregor, an endlessly poignant character whose dismay with life heads him for suicide, but who is saved on the bridge, as it were, by Jerry and Dave (yielding a charming Trio from Yazbek). He keeps the slightly depressive look and goes on to become one of the dedicated and believable heroes in the stripping game.     


True love from the outset. Oliver Britten as the empathetic Dave Bukatinsky and Sam Carlyle as his supportive wife Georgie

  Alex Wadham’s Jerry is the team leader and chief recruiter, even though even he gets the jitters near the end. He has a powerful presence, strong voice, and a searing unpredictability which makes him a perfect casting. One is always on tenterhooks when he’s onstage. The well-enacted multi-roles of Brad Walwyn (camp Buddy Walsh,‘cleric et al.) – a seasoned serious actor (leads in Aeschylus, Shakespeare and one of the gay boys in Frank Wedekind’s ground-breaking teen play Frühlings Erwachen/Spring Awakening) leave one slightly confused, though he would make a perfect understudy for Jerry.

Why all those Polish/East European names? Well, I guess this is New York State: Buffalo, its second city, to be precise, in this American-twang treatment (we’re going to give them Buffalo wieners’). There are nearly ten million Poles in the country, many since the war non-Polish speaking. ‘My break-dancing days are probably over, but what (the hell)?’ There’s a delicious basketball ensemble sequence that more than makes up; and the chaps’ stylish falsetting proves amazingly proficient; not least when Jerry blurts out to his tortured boy ‘All I know is I love you, kid’.  Actually, the well-sung numbers themselves (Malcolm’s solo, and both a tenor duet and a girls’ duet, notably) not only cheered, but despite some plinky-plonk detail, instructed: ‘What is a man? Why does he bother? Because….’

Jack Ballard (in Rent at the Birmingham Old Rep, amongst other credits) strove to contrive an interesting creature of seemingly unattached Ethan Girard, perhaps slightly underwritten for his talents. Ethan seems the back-up, the loyal character who keeps faith in the project and not so much defers as unfailingly supports.

Like Burt, he made a nice contrast. Harold (Rhys Owen), the accountant, loved by Vicky regardless (she sings rather touchingly of it) and a bit of a geek, who begins as an enemy then gamely coaches the team, was possibly the best singer.


Aaron Mwale as canny Noah 'Horse' T. Simmons teaches a few natty tricks to his nervous fellow strippers (Nathan, at left), Jerry, Harold, Malcolm and Dave. Kirsty Cartwright's cascading-haired Jeanette sits centre

Aaron Mwale as Noah ‘Horse’ T. Simmons, whose attributes the others fear are enormous (because of the Policemen’s peaked caps we never find out), makes a splendid, grizzled stand-alone. He’s wiser than the rest put together, soon lured to take part, insisting on standards and no cowardy-custard.

Wiser, too, was Jerry’s teen son Nathan. Their love is patent, but so is the mutual exasperation: ‘I’ll never feel ashamed of you. More like embarrassed.’ One feels for the boy (played here with wonderful sensitivity and burgeoning wisdom by James Blake-Butler; Louis Delaney and Linden Iliffe take over the role as August progresses): he sees his father’s bluster as concealing weakness, yet sympathises with Jerry’s frustrations, and adores his sensible mother. ‘Don’t be what everyone thinks you are, a loser. You’re my father: almost a great father.’ Utterly believable, Blake-Butler makes Nathan the kind of son one would like to have: growing by the minute, ears soaking up, constantly learning, and utterly sincere.

The OJST being a smallish rectangular space, Lacey settles on a simple scaffolding rear cakewalk, which he uses with adequate imagination, often emphasising key moments, and not to excess. Do they need mikes in so trim a space? Possibly not, but they were thoughtfully and sensibly kept to a minimum. The joy of the venue is the proximity of the audience (triple sided) to the actors. Other locations have this virtue: the downstairs space at Northampton’s Derngate suggests much in common. Ample praise for the band, led adroitly by Jack Hopkins. Like the dialogue, it never flagged. Was the event worth our attending? Was it a reward for our pennies? You bet. This was a humdinger of a show.

Roderic Dunnett


The Full Monty continues at the Old Joint Stock Pub & Theatre, 4 Temple Row West, Birmingham B2 5NY till Saturday 1st September


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