kit off

On the way to filling the Monty . . . Nicholas Prasad, Leyon Stolz-Hunter, Jake Quickenden, Bill Ward and Neil Hurst. Pictures: Ellie Kurttz

The Full Monty

Coventry Belgrade


No doubt about it, the audience adored this. Guffawed at the countless well-placed jokes, subtle interplay and witty repartee. Sang along with the enchanting period music. Loved every moment of it.

Audiences aren’t always right, any more than critics, but this time they were absolutely bang on. A corker of a show. Laughs every half minute. A great story. A brilliant build-up. A glorious finale.

The Full Monty is one of the three films a friend of mine said she linked together as the immortal trio: Billy Elliott (Jamie Bell, Director Stephen Daldry); Brassed Off (Pete Postlethwaite, Writer/Director Mark Herman) – both about the 1980s miners’ strike; and The Full Monty, which – being set in Sheffield – is about a group of former steelworkers.

The link? All about Yorkshire, all filmed in the late 1990s, all featuring redundancy and the pennilessness that follows it. Which is what leads this courageous little gang to try out the most amazing teasing idea; striptease. 

In every case we feel empathy with the booted out workers, the strikers, the has-beens. The special thing – among many special things – of this play is that Simon Beaufoy, who wrote (dreamed up) the sensational script of the film, - and won an Oscar for it - has written this stage version, and is disarmingly honest in his programme note about how difficult, even nerve-wracking, it is transferring from one medium to another. A play has very different requirements.

He makes numerous good points, but one is this: ‘Humour is how you deal with despair if you happen to be from the North of England. You don’t make an emotional heart-on-your-sleeve conversation, you make a bloody good joke and that’s how you cope.’  Simon grew up in Keighley, went to a very good (not posh) Grammar School in Skipton, and was 14 when the first intimations of strike action were apparent. A bit older when the full-blown standoff (and the major closing of collieries) led to Armageddon. Quite something for (initially) a youngster to witness. 


Bill Ward and Neil Hurst

But the works personnel – the half-dozen men or lads who are central to the story – are not has-beens. ‘The play works in Sheffield’, Beaufoy says, ‘because despite being working-class men who don’t talk about their feelings, Sheffield people are incredibly open. I find them real talkers, and very funny.’ (A different take on Sheffield from the famous line of Samuel Barnett in The History Boys, which perhaps makes that trilogy a tetralogy.).

Was everything about this production perfect? Overall, I think it was. The fusion of Jasmine Swan (Designer) and Andrew Exeter (Lighting) provided two pretty remarkable features. Most importantly, for me, the superlative view of Sheffield, by day or brought alive at night, from above (almost whichever way you approach the city – north, south, west - the city sits in its own valley like the guardian of the Pennines, with the River Sheaf – did you know that? I didn’t - running through or below. Take that view and add Exeter’s amazing different ways of lighting it, colours galore but subtle, never overworked, and you have a perfect backdrop. A beautiful one, in fact.

The other dominant (as opposed to distant) feature was the now redundant steelworks, looking very like Port Talbot or Corby, a vast, clodhopping scaffolding also enclosing a couple of front doors, from one of which Jack-the-lad Gary (Gaz, played by Danny Hatchard, who holds the whole thing together), is being ejected for non-payment together with small son Nathan (I think Jack Wiesniewski here – fabulous, and unmistakably a Yorkshire lad - but there’s Rowan Poulton, likewise, and two others on the tour).

Any reservation to spoil the accolades? Just one. The set is constantly moved around by a mixture of clever stage hands and willing cast members. Their manoeuvring, and precision, was a spectacle in itself, especially as so many had to interact to do it. But it didn’t need to be moved, swung, recalibrated, so many times. This hyperactivity wasn’t obstructive, or annoying. True, it was fun to watch. But it overestimated the set’s importance, or actually its unvariety. Time and again you might be staring hopefully for a slightly different-feeling angle, yet all of them looked, in essence, the same.

Someone must have imagined these variants made an important difference; it was a masterful piece of heavy construction; and of course, cast and backstage will have genned up on every minuscule adjustment. But this constant reshaping wasn’t needed. The lumpen works frontage was fabulously sufficient.

There were none of the clever arrangements achieved in (say) the Musical of Billy Elliot. The initial full-frontal view, where Gaz and Dave (Neil Hurst, well up to Mark Addy in the movie) are nicking a whopping steel girder – delightful and delightfully acted comic sequence – was the best.


Neil Hurst and Danny Hatchard

But this was a wonderful team job by a stupendous cast. The women have a pretty modest role, not unimportant, with Jean (Katy Dean) coming out with flying colours. Hatchard was just good value all through, and Hurst likewise – a kind of Mel Smith personality who generated quite a lot of the best one-liners The funniest moment of the evening, by far – the audience confirmed it - was furnished by another of the six plotters, ‘Horse’ (Ben Onwukwe), a late arrival, perhaps not a steelworker, who emerged from being supposedly arthritic and geriatric to portray the most hilarious, fluid, rubbery solo dance of the whole team. Horse’s attributes were reported to be considerable.

These six entrepreneurs will all (penultimately) end up, as in the film, dressed as Police Officers - and another funny moment was when the real Police, tipped off perhaps, burst in on their antics. What were those antics? Stripping off, of course – not quite at this stage the ‘Full Monty,’ but bum-waggling foretastes to appetise the audience. The arrival of the Fuzz looked like a disaster moment, but even though they all end up down the Nick, it soon blows over. Perhaps that scene could have been worked up (written) more amply.

Another star is Gerald (a slightly posher name), the works’ former foreman. Matching up to Tom Wilkinson might be a tall order, but Bill Ward, starting out a starchy administrator and only by stages (this was a very capable bit of writing) won over – unexpectedly - to be one of the six was, whatever are Gerald’s changeable mood, unremittingly superb. The fact he can dance (and Ward, in a terrific performance here at the Belgrade, certainly can) is the main reason why he gradually yields, joins up and fits in, rather than hectors and bullies them. When Ward raised his voice – and he did, a lot – he was especially impressive.

The relationship between Gaz and Nathan is very much at the heart of the story. Nathan has the right to say things to his prickly dad which he wouldn’t accept from anyone else. In that sense he’s a bit like a king’s Fool (no offence meant, an accolade). The 11-year-old is onstage for half, possibly more than half the play. Robert Carlyle was paired with young William (Wim) Snape, and their mutual playing off one another was, and was meant to be, a main feature of the film.

There’s no doubt our performers here were well up to the mark. Endlessly well directed behaviour from the littlun: Michael Gyngell was the Director: nothing less than excellent on his watch; I imagine all four boys were honed to perfection by him, as here; and a rip-roaring tour-de-force from Gary. The boy’s a bright’un: no steelworks for him, luckily. Like Beaufoy, he will probably have a place at Ermysted’s Grammar.

Other roles are well taken; each could have been written into the script a bit more. Guy’s (Jake Quickenden’s) near-nudity was a supreme audience hit, the first paired Act I buttocks to preempt the final sextet. The (predominantly female) audience seemed more turned on than amused. There’s a gay element – Lomper (Nicholas Prasad) shyly ‘comes out’ or owns up, touchingly, later on: a pleasant, sympathetic half-scene, as a minor feature. One of the women does sensational Hispanic flamenco, artful though little connected with the rest. Adam Porter-Smith made a suitably nasty, nigh-on brutal shut-the-door-in-yer-face Landlord.

If one picked out just one thing, it would be Beaufoy’s brilliant management of pacing, and creation of an immaculate, beautifully judged slow build-up all through Part Two, which never wearies, always entertains, and hits so many nails on the head. The silences in Gyngell’s production here were so cleverly mapped they kept you absolutely agog. Taken all together, this is an utterly splendid show. Huge talent onstage; quality in all departments. Funny-sad, sad-funny. But deeply moving amid the banter and bravado. Life-enhancing. A massive achievement.

Roderic Dunnett


Index page Belgrade Reviews A-Z Reviews by Theatre