It was not easy being a man in the rapidly de-industrialising Britain of the 1980s. Gone was the job for life at the local pit/foundry/ship works where your father had toiled and possibly his father too. The loss of chief breadwinner status sparked a masculinity crisis stripping a generation of their self-esteem as they squared up to a future stacking shelves at Morrison’s.
In this world turned upside down why not take your clothes off to get that respect back? Simon Beaufoy’s darkly joyous film chronicling the efforts of a bunch of Sheffield steelworkers as they attempt to reinvent themselves in the wake of redundancy was released just three months after the 1997 election of Tony Blair. At last it was safe to laugh at the Tories and their slash and burn industrial policies of the previous decade because, after all, things could only get better.
Of course, we all know what happened next and here we are again facing a new kind of crisis that threatens our vision of ourselves. As artistic director Daniel Evans points out The Full Monty is a pretty unusual feel-good comedy. It mines its laughs from a bleak seam of depression, isolation and confusion forging joy from the language and spirit of men who refuse to be crushed by the wheels of post industrialism. It is impossible not to be drawn to the protagonists as they embark on their journey from dole queue to one-night-only redemption down the social club.
Kenny Doughty’s Gaz, the lovable Humper from Hathersage, mobilises his motley band of performers with irrepressible charm, coaxing the reluctant Dave, superbly played by Roger Morlidge, into the crimson posing pouch and some kind of future. They are supported by an exemplary cast – particularly Simon Rouse’s tragically proud Gerald, the foreman in ruinous denial at his downward mobility. There was always a danger that this play could have rested on its laurels as sure-fire house filler in its home city. But instead it provides a brilliantly entertaining night out which was rapturously received by an audience that gave it a strenuous and richly-deserved standing ovation, sending hundreds of theatregoers spilling out into the streets laughing and happy. The big scene at the end when we are finally treated to the full monty employs one of the most thrilling perspective switches I have ever seen in the theatre.
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