Cheeky chaps are in it together – all the way until the final eyeful
When Weekend grabs a chat with actor Kenny Doughty about his role in the new stage adaptation of the celebrated Britflick The Full Monty, he's fresh from a session with the physiotherapist. "It's a very physical show," he reveals. "I'd been getting myself in shape for it for months before – but even so, there are still a lot of aches and pains."
Anyone who remembers the Oscar-nominated 1997 film (and who doesn't?) will remember that there's plenty of, well, physical action involved.
It is, after all, the story of a bunch of unemployed Sheffield steelworkers who find themselves on the scrapheap after the city's famous steelworks are closed down. To earn some cash – and to revive their flagging self-esteem – the band of mates decide to stage a male strip show. The story then follows their awkward, but ultimately hugely successful journey to this end, via plenty of more or less tightly choreographed rehearsal scenes.
Kenny's playing Gaz, the story's central character. Memorably played by Robert Carlyle in the movie, this charismatic character is the one to get the whole striptease project off the ground. Gaz is motivated by the desire to spend more time with his ten-year-old son Nathan: he's estranged from Nathan's mother, who tells him that he can see more of his son when he's able to stump up some decent maintenance. For Gaz, then, the quest for a new livelihood is a real and emotional one.
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Simon Beaufoy, who was nominated for an Oscar for the film screenplay, has adapted the story for the stage. The play also features much of the film's memorable soundtrack, including tracks from Donna Summer, Hot Chocolate and Tom Jones. In many other ways, too, Beaufoy's stage play is faithful to his much-loved film: much of the dialogue and many of the scenes have survived intact including, memorably, Gaz and co's "full monty" bare-all striptease at the end. The major innovations, of course, have had to come in the staging of the play: here, designer Rob Jones has recreated the shell of the now disused steelworks, soon to be pulled down to be turned into luxury canalside flats.
The play started its run with three weeks in its native Sheffield. "It's been great to be here," says Kenny. "The audience know the story so well – it's their story after all, the story of their city and what happened to it during the 1980s and how people had to adapt. So we've had a very warm reception here."
Kenny's finding Gaz a completely absorbing character to play. "He's the centre of it all, and the story of his relationship with Nathan gives the story a lot of its poignancy, to counterbalance the humour. Gaz is a great character to play – he's cheeky, charming, trying to use his wit and intelligence to make ends meet. At the heart of it, though, is his desire to get himself together so he can see his son again.
"For thousands of men, the steelworks was a job for life: it gave them an identity, a community, everything – and that was then suddenly ripped away from them. These men are coming to terms with being out of work, a very strange experience for them, and also with the fact that the world is changing and the role of women is changing. Men aren't necessarily the main breadwinner any more, and that's tough for a man's self-esteem.
"Of course it's a lovely comedy with a strip at the end, but what's important is that we learn the stories of these men, so that by the time we get to those raucous comedy scenes, audiences really care about the characters and there is feeling as well as laughter. They're whooping and cheering for us, but it's not just 'get yer kit off!'. It's a lovely mix, and a hugely uplifting show to perform."
And what of that full-frontal moment right at the end, as the striptease act reaches its inevitable climax? More than a little nerve-wracking, surely? "My mate said to me, 'The film was one thing, but you're doing this stuff live. You have to do it night after night in front of real people whooping and screaming'. And it is daunting and terrifying, but there is a camaraderie between us, a sense that we're all in this together, all the way until the final eyeful."
The Full Monty Monday, March 4 to Saturday, March 9, Bristol Hippodrome. See listings for details.