Last night Monday 2 February saw Woking’s New Victoria Theatre turn into a Sheffield Working Men’s Club circa 1980’s sometime during Margaret Thatcher’s err reign? There may have been expectation amongst the mainly female audience but it’s a big theatre and without big glasses and with the clever lighting we should be aware that the finale when it comes is fitting for the matrons of Woking not to be discombobulated beyond necessary.
It’s almost a shame though, that this is the focus of what many see this to be about, when it is a story centred around a group of men who have felt emasculated by unemployment and the decimation of life as they know it in 1980’s Sheffield and covers the issues that are still relevant today still faced by people against an austere backdrop of life somewhat different but pulling on the same resilience that always gets us through. So this is a play where the common themes that affect everyone at some time are faced and dealt with, unemployment, depression, homosexuality, sexual equality, the effects of relationship breakdown and body image and through it all the humour that gets most people through the darkest times and gives a shorthand of empathy to friends going through it shines through. A friend said he felt like he was at a hen night and yet it’s a shame more men hadn’t given it a go – it’s largely dealing with issues many men recognise as common causes of anxiety but in a humorous way. It covers the difficulties that women face when their world too changes and they have to navigate the icy and unpredictable waters of supporting a partner whose way of coping may not make them the easiest to love.
An iconic film is a hard act to follow and yet the writer Simon Beaufoy ensures that the themes and dialogue are fresh, adapting the screenplay to theatre very effectively losing nothing of the depth of feeling and drive of the story. All of the cast are superb at giving a nod to the characters shaped in it yet making their own. The opening scene where Gaz (Gary Lucy) and Dave (Martin Miller) attempt to steal a girder while Gaz’s son Nathan looks on sets the scene on their past and the desperation they are in their present. As the play moves on and they gather more to their troupe the dynamic and chemistry amongst the actors bring the reality of a close knit group of friends helping each other – learning the moves using the Arsenal offside trap and with a dose of the morality play – one leaves the group to deal in isolation with their problems until the realisation that others, are in fact on your side. The moment where Dave saves Lomper from suicide only to receive an ungrateful response is quick and had the audience roaring with laughter. There were many more of those moments.
The fact that the audience identify with the characters and wants them to shed their troubles and their anxieties and liberate themselves inside actually displays what a ‘feel good’ factor can do in inspiring people to cheer others on in life. Maybe we could all do with remembering that people in need sometimes need a cheering audience not a judgemental bureaucracy maybe writing situations and characters like this does that. Hope so.
The Full Monty is a play that does appeal to all I took my sixteen year old daughter who eagerly jumped at the chance – she hadn’t seen the film so didn’t know it was less about stripping and more about humanity. Despite me using the opportunity to explain at length that it was a good snapshot of what happened to Britain under Margaret Thatcher I don’t know if I got anywhere, at the end the mobile phone was quickly tapping out to her friends ‘Can’t believe my Mum has just taken me to a strip show’ followed by pouty snapchat picture. She won’t read this so I’m ok. Anyway she said I fancied the bloke from Dinnerladies (Andrew Dunn plays Gerald, the beleaguered foreman desperately trying to keep his position in life) even though I pointed out he was making an excellent job of this role and Dinner ladies was a very well written piece of TV. They just don’t get it these kids. So here you go – here’s THAT pic….
Oh, wait… I lied – you’ll have to see for yourself……
The Full Monty is at New Victoria Theatre until Saturday 7 February for bookings check out http://www.atgtickets.