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The Full Monty | Buxton Opera House

Underneath the layers of sparkly, velcro-encrusted costumes, The Full Monty bares its heart; this adaptation of the 1997 film is honest, relevant, vulnerable, and so much fun. The play follows Gaz, an unemployed, struggling father attempting to raise enough money to look after his son, Nathan. Gaz and his group of mismatched, strange but lovable friends, end up forming a male strip-tease group who rehearse in the abandoned steel mill where they used to work.

The story’s strength lies in its characters: the velcro that holds the play together. For me, the standout is Dave, played by Neil Hurst, who struggles with insecurities and body image alongside his unemployment - issues that trigger feelings of mediocrity within his relationship with Jean (Katy Dean). Hurst brings wit and tenderness to the role, earning the enthusiastic appreciation of the audience. Hurst and Danny Hatchard, as Gaz, are lovely to watch together; they depict the intimacy, as well as the jokey back-and-forth, of the characters’ friendship in a real and believable way.

Intimacy is key to Simon Beaufoy’s script, as it explores subplots of queerness, fatherhood, and healing with so much warmth and ardency. Occasionally, I felt the pacing was a little slow during the first act - potentially because of a desire to include most of the same scenes as the film – but it is funny and well-written, and the characters are perfectly suited to the increased immersion and connectivity of live theatre.

The immersion into Gaz’s world is central to the show’s design. The set, by Jasmine Swan, encompasses every location with the bleak, harsh structure of the steelworks; the setting that catalysed his current struggle is a constant presence during his attempts to escape and survive it. While it is impressive that the set morphs and transforms aesthetically, sometimes its bulkiness interrupted this immersion; the movement between the different sets took some time. Perhaps it would have been interesting to involve the central characters in the set transitions, in a similar way to a moment in the first act: the set was changed in the background while a pair of ballroom dancers emerged from the dark. One of the best scenes from both the film and play is when each member of the group starts to dance along to ‘Hot Stuff’ while in a queue at the job centre; it is a joy to watch because of their wholesome enthusiasm. This could be mirrored in the transitions between scenes, by potentially seeing the characters rehearse individually, letting themselves have some unashamed fun while working wilfully towards the freedom promised by their hip thrusts and raunchy dance moves.

Simon Beaufoy has written a play with so much heart, and it is directed in kind by Michael Gyngell. Yet, sometimes it is unintentionally overshadowed by the idea of a 'strip-tease' and the excitement and raucousness of the audience. Of course, the play is meant to be – and is - exciting, sexy, and feel-good, but there are so many layers underneath that are worth seeing too. I did love watching (and occasionally cheering on) these characters, while they did some fun dances to some great songs. But the characters and stories are so much more fleshed out than the title and final climactic dance scene suggest. With the pandemic and cost of living crisis, it is as relevant as ever; the same anger – directed here against the conservative club and Margaret Thatcher – still perseveres. The Full Monty, while genuinely funny and heart-warming, is also political, confrontational, and honest.

For me, the play is worth seeing because every layer is important and well-crafted. When you remove those glittery costumes and scandalous (although somehow endearing) dances, it is a story about masculinity, fatherhood, body image, unemployment, friendship, and survival. It is a story where everything is revealed, and we are left with something sparkling and bold.

The Full Monty will be playing in the Buxton Opera House until Saturday 30th September, and then will continue to tour the UK. For more information and tickets, you can follow the link here.

{AD | Gifted} Written by Rosie Davies | Photography by Ellie Kurtz

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