I’ve just spent an evening watching attractive women sexily gyrate their bodies, a pretty girl remove her knickers, a young man bear his backside and six men of various ages and…ahem…sizes strip off their clothes leaving nothing to the imagination. All for my pleasure.
You might be thinking the pressure of freelance writing has finally got to me and I’ve descended into a sordid lifestyle. You might fear for the well-being of my two children who I took with me to see all this. You might fear for my sanity to hear me refer to this disgraceful night out as ‘good old-fashioned family entertainment’.
But you’d be wrong. For a great night out it was.
Admittedly, The Full Monty is not for little ones. There is limited nudity (lots of men’s chests and one hilarious moment of a man’s backside I am reliably informed was “cute”). There’s also a fair amount of language – but nothing worse than heard in the school playgrounds every day and for older kids, as mine are, it’s relatively tame stuff. I found myself comparing the show to what the Carry On team was doing forty years ago. As Kenneth Williams et al was shocking audiences back then with risqué humour, so The Full Monty shocks now. The differences are that The Full Monty is funnier and that rather than being a ‘saucy romp’ for the sake of entertainment, this show brings up important issues relevant to today’s society.
Regular readers may recall my post here When the Young Woman Wanted Me Naked where director, Rachel Denwood nearly convinced me to be one of the six brave men who were on that stage this night. I chickened out – writing a review is a much safer thing to do – but those six (Shaun Donald, Chris Simpson, Aron Armstrong, Connor Reid, Morgan Sweeny and Mark Seldon) have earned my respect.
I went to the first night, arriving early to see a nervous crew desperately trying to get working the set of lights which prove all so important for the climax. I won’t give anything away but I hope to goodness they don’t fail for any of the remaining performances this week! As we waited for the show to start, my family and I were all intrigued just how the crew got a real car on the stage! I asked Rachel afterwards but I won’t give away the secret. I don’t envy the crew trying to get the thing back down though when the show ends at the weekend.
The show was hindered by sound issues which hopefully the crew will sort for remaining performances. Having been away, it’s been a few years since I last saw the Whitehaven Theatre Group (WTG) perform and it was amusing to note that the occasional ‘off-stage conversation’ played over the sound system still happens. Nevertheless, even with the sound issues, the performers did a fantastic job and nothing detracted from the audience simply enjoying the story and the songs.
If, like me, you’ve been geeky and watched the 1997 movie before seeing the show you’ll notice that the storyline is almost identical – but moved to America. This is a shame I think as the point of the movie – about the hopelessness of British northern life for men whose pride is all about working but find themselves unemployed with no prospects for a job – loses some of its punch as a result. All the classic songs from the film are missing but the story has been turned into a musical with all new numbers which, on the whole, work very well. The harsh and cynical tone of the movie is also turned down which is what makes this show good family entertainment.
After a great opener we enter the gent’s toilets where the ladies have gone for a pee while male strippers do their stuff on stage. This was the first opportunity to see what a good a job Kayleigh Cullen has done with the choreography. What a sight! Perfectly performed, the ladies raunched and bitched around the stage and simply owned it. It helps to have some good-looking and brilliantly talented dancers like Kate Johnston who surely make every woman in the audience jealous but all the girls looked fantastic yet were entirely believable as ordinary working women. Throughout the show the dancing was impeccable and a delight to see.
After this, opening night nerves settled and the guys clearly enjoyed being on the stage. This was essential for one of my favourite songs of the night – “Big Ass Rock“. An hilarious piece of black comedy as two men contemplate the best way to help Malcolm (played wonderfully by Aron Armstrong) to kill himself as Malcolm himself realises he finally has friends – after all, they’re willing to kill him and that’s got to count for something!
As Jerry (Shaun Donald) and Dave (Chris Simpson) began collecting their band of misfits to take on the male strippers at their own game, we were led to, for my money, the best song of the night as ‘Horse’ (Mark Seldon) performed “Well Hung Man“. A brilliant performance which had us crying with laughter and impressed with Seldon’s singing voice and presence on the stage. My wife immediately turned to me and said “he can give up his day job” and I’m inclined to agree.
The show isn’t all about comedy though. What makes both the movie and the musical so interesting is the real world pathos for men desperate to find who they are when their world is taken away from them. “Rule My World” was one of these times. You would thinking singing a love song to your stomach would be a comedy moment but ‘fat bastard’ Dave was played perfectly by Chris Simpson and had us feeling for this man whose marriage is in trouble simply because he sees himself as unlovable. Although Jerry is the official lead character in the show, this story is as much about Dave and I suspect most men in the audience could identify with his plight.
In the second act we really get to know a character not in the movie but who makes a great addition. Jeanette (played with her usual flair by the wonderful Jennifer Todhunter) is a hoot as an aging boozing ex-performer – lovable but ‘past it’. My only criticism would be that Jennifer Todhunter is just too young and beautiful to really convince us she’s ‘past it’ even in make-up – but she was great anyway!
Jeanette aside, we were soon reaching the moment we’d been waiting for as the men began to reveal something of their bodies. I can’t help but note that The Full Monty is perfect for amateur dramatic societies as the whole point of these men of all ages and ‘class’ is that they don’t have sexy and alluring bodies to entice us sexually. These are men driven by desperation to prove themselves to their wives and kids, to show society that they will do whatever is necessary to be good husbands and fathers and hold their heads up in pride. I saw six brave actors daring to do what the rest of us wouldn’t and the message is clearly understood on several levels.
But just before we get to the ultimate climax and point of the whole show, we have an interlude where Malcolm sings of his mother. Aron Armstong is a long-term member of the group who has impressed me over the years. This performance was no different. Playing an awkward and squeaky-voiced geek, he was transformed when singing “You Walk With Me“. What a voice this young man has! Armstrong is an actor WTG must not lose. He’s faultless on the stage.
He’s not the only one who can jerk tears from us all. In the Reprise of “You Rule my World” the two wives, Georgie (Kayleigh Cullen, who acts as well as she choreographs) and Vicki (Gillian Rothery) show us just how much the women suffer as their men suffer silently, trapped in their own anguish and pride. A marvellous song and an excellent foil to what happens next.
I won’t spoil the climactic piece “Let It Go” for you. Go see the show and see for yourself. I can tell you though that the boys pulled it off – literally – and did so hilariously. Go prepared to get involved; the last scene requires you, the audience, to really be the audience. You’ll see what I mean…
All in all, this was a great night out for a show as meaningful as it is funny. The WTG did a first class job despite teething issues and director Rachel Denwood can be proud of herself (I already know she’s proud of the whole team – rightly so) for an excellent production. In a sense, any sound or singing issues just add to the point of the story and certainly don’t take away the enjoyment of a good night out.
The show continues all week with the final performance on Saturday 3rd May. Go get your ticket (I suggest near the front) and go prepared to laugh, cry and scream “get it off!” at the top of your voice.
I know I did.
You can buy tickets for Whitehaven Theatre Group’s ‘The Full Monty” here.