Norwich Theatre Royal: The Full Monty cast - including Gary Lucy, Chris Fountain and Andrew Dunn - laid bare on the show’s return to Norwich
- Credit: Matt Crockett
Almost 20 years ago a low-budget, but warm hearted and funny film about a bunch of unemployed Sheffield steel workers who turn to stripping to boost their bank balances and self-esteem became a box office sensation.
The Full Monty is still in the top 20 highest earning films ever at UK cinemas. And the final frame of the film, in which the characters showing 12 bare buttocks as they stand in front of a crowd of whooping women helped add the film's cheeky title to everyday parlance.
It even became an unlikely hit in America - so much so that it was subsequently turned into a successful Broadway musical, though the setting transferred to the US steel town of Buffalo.
Four years ago its Oscar-winning screenwriter Simon Beaufoy returned to the story and transformed it into a play and the down-to-earth production proved to be equally successful with audiences.
After a triumphant premiere at Sheffield's Crucible Theatre, and a run in the West End, a sold out UK tour brought it to the Norwich Theatre Royal two years ago. Now it is back featuring a cast ready to bare all. It includes three familiar faces who appeared in the last tour, Gary Lucy, who plays Robert Carlyle's role of Gaz, Louis Emerick, who played the popular Mick Johnson in Brookside, and the luckless PC Walsh in Last Of The Summer Wine, and Andrew Dunn, best known for his role as Tony in Dinnerladies both on screen and stage.
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'The producer normally likes to have a completely new cast so that they can make it their own and that they are not just copying what went before, but this time there are three of us from the last tour cast, myself, Louis and Gary Lucy, who are back,' said Andrew, who also played a satirical version of Alastair Campbell in Bremner, Bird and Fortune.
'The director, Jack O'Brien, has been very good though in allowing the new cast members to develop their own way into it. It is nearly like a new production really, but because I've been in it before it is like visiting an old friend. Because I already had the experience of playing it to live audiences, you just know how certain things need to be played and how it goes for the audiences.'
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The production features songs from the film including tracks by Donna Summer, Hot Chocolate and Tom Jones, and the new touring production is directed by award-winning director Roger Haines.
Like the film, the play taps into existential anxiety about the erosion of men's traditional roles in the workplace and the home. Penniless and desperate, and despite their less than perfect bodies and various ages, they seek to restore some pride as much as pay the bills.
It remains as relevant as ever.
'Many of those issues haven't gone away,' agrees the actor. 'Last year when we were touring there were all the issues in the steel industry at Scunthorpe and in South Wales, whole communities facing the threat of these industries being shut down. It was the same issues happening again.'
Andrew plays Gerald, the role played in the film by Tom Wilkinson, the foreman at the steel plant too proud or ashamed to admit to his wife, and perhaps himself, that he is now unemployed.
'He has been made redundant and going back the 1980s, for men of that age there job was what defined them in a way. So to lose your job in your fifties, they felt that they were struggling to play that traditional role of being the man of the household. Consequently Gerald goes on this journey of not telling his wife that he is unemployed. He has to spend six months lying and hiding and pretending to go to work. He is really struggling to make things look normal.'
It's not just unemployment and death of heavy industries that the play, which sticks closely to the film, mines for drama and comedy.
'It covers a lot of issues - the death of an industry, friendships, homosexuality, the breakdown of families, loss of access to children - but its all done with a sense of humour,' said Andrew.
'Even as things get darker, the humour comes out even more. It turns into a feel good piece really, which it shouldn't do considering what it is about. But the humour and a story of the six blokes trying to get something together, is really appealing to theatre audiences. They follow all these storylines and by the end they are really cheering for us to do the strip and get the money.'
In the film the famous climax was shot from behind and the frame frozen on 12 pairs of buttocks and the delighted expressions of whooping women at the Sheffield working man's club where it was filmed. But in a theatre, it is a different story — there is nowhere to hide. And yes, they do go the full monty.
'I think we show more than in the film to be honest,' laughs Andrew. 'The actual strip at the end in the film is not really that long, but we do the full routine to You Can Leave Your Hat On, then the full reveal at the end - then the lights to blind the audience and hopefully the curtains come in quick enough!'
When first cast in the show Andrew admits to having doubts at the prospect.
'To be honest I was in two minds whether I wanted to do it. Who wants to see an old bloke like me naked? Even I wince when I see myself in the mirror, so why would anyone want to come and see it in a theatre? But my wife persuaded me and said you're doing it. I'm glad that she did because it has been one of the happiest, best jobs that I've ever had. It is and the reaction we get has been phenomenal. I have never been in a show like it.'
The famous finale has given the show a reputation as primarily appealing to women, something that baffles Andrew.
'The idea now seems to be that it is a show that women come and see, but it's not really. There is only that last 60 seconds at the end stripping, otherwise I actually think it is really more a play for blokes. It's their language, their humour, their experiences. But for some reason it has this reputation, 30 years after the film that is just about blokes taking their clothes off. It's so much more than that.'
The play has a few minor tweaks from the film, but Andrew feels it was tailor made for a stage adaptation already.
'Because of the characters and the relationships, it is like a little sitcom at times. Simon has changed a few things, like when Lomper tries to gas himself in the car in the film, in the play he tries to hang himself. Also the kids are written much more, the son is in it more.'
The show has a cast of 14, and four young actors playing Gaz's son, Nathan. 'The youngest is nine and the others about 12. They alternate and sort of do two weeks on, two weeks off, as we tour around. They are brilliant. It shocks me just how good they are. I'm sure when I was nine I wouldn't have said boo to a goose, but they are up there and very confident and often steal the show. Never work with children!'
Andrew has come back to The Full Monty after a spell in the stage adaptation of Brassed Off, a film with very similar themes.
'There has also been Pride and Billy Elliott, of course,' adds Andrew. 'They are set in that similar sort of era too. It is quite odd how the British public have taken these sorts of stories to their heart.'