An unashamed crowd-pleaser, this Simon Beaufoy adaptation of the 1997 hit film of the same name seems made for stage. Phrases such as ‘feel-good’ and ‘heartwarming’ are overused, but come true here as we see six men, down-and-out in an industrial Sheffield ravaged by the Thatcherite regime, battle their employment woes by “getting their tackles out” for a few bob.
Why does it work so well? As Beaufoy himself mentions in the programme “there’s a lot of people sitting in one place, going nowhere”. This is not a film that has been shoe-horned onto stage, but a rather natural fit. The acting is superb, with no weak links but a couple of standout performances, most notably from Simon Rouse as the highly strung Gerald, Roger Morlidge as overeater Dave and Rachel Lumberg as his supportive wife Jean. There is a lot of heart in the story, and lovers of the film will be pleased to know that, for the most part, little has changed.
But in making the transition from film to stage, some of the tragedy of the story has been lost. After all, we’re no longer watching it in the privacy of our own homes but in a theatre with hundreds of other audience members. While still tackling issues such as unemployment, child-care, self-worth, body image and financial deprivation, and doing so with gusto, the play just cannot achieve the same level of intimacy and bittersweetness.
It is a tricky one, as for some people this will be both at the heart of its success and its failure. The characters are likeable, the set is a triumph, the acting is strong and the finale is…well…as finales should be, absolutely knockout. It’s a real pleasure to share it with the rest of the audience and we left with a sense that all is right with the world, the little guys can win, and the strength of the human heart can conquer all. It’s a great feeling but, considering the background of the story, is it really the feeling that we are supposed to have?
The emotional complexities might divide punters, but The Full Monty is well acted, superbly directed and above all, a riot. If that’s enough for you, we recommend you book yourself a seat.