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Why the Full Monty is a bare necessity



Review by David Munro

AFTER last week’s delightful Merry Widow, The Full Monty was a bit of a cultural shock.

There is a world of difference between La Belle Epoch and modern day Buffalo, New York. Nevertheless, there is a connection in that both deal with the redemption through love, although, in The Full Monty, it is somewhat understated – no lush waltzes, but rather gritty post rock tunes, by David Yazbek, which underscore the frustration of men trying to achieve self fulfilment in the grip of a financial depression.

It was also a shock to find that the setting had been moved from Sheffield to New York City.

While this might be acceptable on Broadway, surely, for London, the original locale could have been restored.

However, this is a minor cavil for despite this, the whole show still works. Depression in the States is not so very different from that in Sheffield, and with the excellent cast that this production has, one very soon becomes involved in the action so that the background seems to matter nothing.

And an excellent cast it is. The story, as most people must know, concerns the efforts of six men to raise money for their wives and families by performing a strip act.

The act itself is the culmination of the evening which sets out to show the way in which being out of work affects decent men and their women and what it takes to force them into accepting that their potential humiliation is the only thing between despair and survival.

The men are ordinary blokes and the cast portray them with understanding and conviction.

It is perhaps unfair to single out any particular actor, as the whole cast perform as a team, but there is no denying that Tim Rogers ,as Jerry, divorced father and prime mover of the scheme to strip, is outstanding.

He sings and dances with grace and precision and his scenes with his ex-wife and son – Caroline Fox and Joe Gunn – are pitched just right, showing the desperation that being out of work and unable to provide causes; a very moving performance.

He is, however, only one of the team; Sion Lloyd, as his best mate, Dave, who shows that being fat is no drawback for a stripper, Alex Gaumond and Nigel Francis, as Malcolm and Ethan, who find respite from penury in their affection for each other, Gareth Snook, as Harold, their ex-boss, who becomes the team’s choreographer, and last but by no means least, David Danns, as Horse, the arthritic black man who rounds up the team.

All are characters and are so well played you leave the theatre with the feeling that you know them personally.

The girls, wives and ex-wives, while motivating the plot, are perhaps lesser figures in the story.

They are still just as well portrayed by Melissa Jacques, Cheryl McAvoy Stevie Tate-Bauer, Kate Burell and Rachel Tucker, even if their characters are not so well defined as those of the men.

And then there is Jeannette; she and Keno, a professional stripper, have been added to the story by the dramatist, Terrence McNally.

Jeanette (Jacqueline Clarke) is a pianist, who appears, apparently from nowhere, to help the men prepare their act and to give them a gloss of show-business.

She is both bizarre and warmly human and Miss Clarke makes a real character of her at times almost stealing the show from the six protagonists.

Michael Taibi also creates a real character, as Keno, the stripper who knocks Jerry down when his masculinity is impugned with the remark, 'Fairies: one, Christians: zero'.

The show is well directed and paced, by Madeleine Loftin and Jack O’Brien, on John Arnone's minimal set comprising mainly of moveable screens, which hurry the action along.

As does Jerry Mitchell’s choreography, re-created by Tara Wilkinson, which is an excellent example of art concealing art in the manner he makes the men appear inept, while at the same time executing intricate routines. A joy to behold.

While the plot is faithful to the film, the transition to a musical is so adept as to be painless.

I did not see the West End production, so I have no comparisons to make, but, on the strength of last night’s performance, I take my G-string off in salute to a hard working cast who gave me at least two and a half hours of unalloyed pleasure – The Fully Monty in fact!

The Full Monty, By Terrence McNally Music & Lyrics by David Yazbek. Director, Jack O’Brien / Madeleine Loftin; Designer, John Arnone; Costumes, Robert Morgan; Lighting, Howell Binkley; Sound, Mike Walker.
Choreographer, Jerry Mitchell / Tara Wilkinson.
Musical Director, Ted Sperling.
CAST: Jacqueline Clarke; David Danns; Caroline Fox; Nigel Francis; Alex Gaumond; Joe Gunn; Melissa Jaques; Tommy Knoght; Sion Lloyd; Cheryl McAvoy; Edward Moloney; Tim Rogers; Gareth Snook; Eithne Brown; Nicola Bryan; Kate Burell; Simon Greenhill; Ralph Jackman; Dean Maynard; Kristopher Holmes; Tom Sutton; Michael Taibi; Stevie Tate Bauer; Rachel Tucker; Dennis Victory; Ian Waller.
Produced by Sacha Brooks, by special arrangement with Searchlight Pictures, Lindsay Law and Thomas Hull.
New Wimbledon Theatre, The Broadway, Wimbledon, London, SW19 1QG.
Tuesday, May 4 - Saturday, May 15
Evenings: Mon - Sat 7.30pm; Matinees Thurs & Sat 2.30pm.
Box Office 0870 060 1827.

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