Judging from the noise at last night’s Royal & Derngate Theatre you’d have thought the audience was a hen night expecting to see a bunch of male strippers.
Ah yes, they were there to see a bunch of male strippers.
The Full Monty national tour has reached Northampton and it opened, albeit 15 minutes late, to the usual enthusiasm it has encountered on its travels.
Sitting in the stalls, enticingly close to the stage, I was beginning to think that most of the theatre-goers were only there for the last three minutes.
They were hoping, upon hope, that there would be another lights malfunction and the stalls would get an eyeful of the screen hunk Gary Lucy and the guys sans clothing.
But there is a story to The Full Monty and it’s hugely inspirational, if a little dated.
This is the first production to follow the original film version and includes those now iconic moments including the Hot Stuff dole queue shuffle and, of course, the show-stopping finale.
I saw the play last year when it opened, with another cast, in London’s West End and was stunned when it was pulled by the producers after only a few weeks.
It got a standing ovation, great reviews, and tremendous support from a public that clearly loved it.
I’m delighted that it’s now on an extensive national tour because it is more than worth the price of a ticket (and not simply to see a flash of flesh).
Simon Beaufoy’s story takes a while to take off and doesn’t really engage the audience until the end of the first act when gay hairdresser and part-time plasterer, Guy, reveals his assets.
It is set in 1980s Sheffield at the end of the Thatcher era when unemployment had a firm grip of the Steel City.
A group of redundant welders face losing their self-respect and the love of their families as they struggle to make ends meet on the dole.
There’s an attempted suicide, themes of impotence, unemployment and despair. Did I mention this is a feelgood drama?
Gaz will lose access to his son unless he can meet his child maintenance payments.
In an act of desperation he plans to launch a Yorkshire version of the internationally famous American male strip act, The Chippendales – for one night only.
But his mates aren’t buffed and bronzed Californian hunks. They are salt-of-the-earth working class blokes.
The production finally hots up during Gaz’s auditions. Best mate, Dave, is overweight and reluctant; the endearing Lomper wants to kill himself; Horse can still bust a few moves even with an arthritic hip; and former foreman Gerald can’t believe he’s planning to shed his clothes.
And then in walks Guy (former Corrie star Rupert Hill just lights up the stage with a warm and affectionate performance). Guy admits he can’t sing or dance but, phew, ladies..he’s a treat in white Y-Fronts.
So will they perform? And will they go The Full Monty? We may not have had a lights malfunction but the first ten rows get quite an eyeful at the curtain call (we even get a cheeky encore by Mr Lucy’s buttocks).
Both Lucy and Hill had a glint in their eyes at the moment of the big reveal that suggested they probably get a huge ego boost taking their clothes off in front of more than 1,000 screaming women.
Fine character actors like Andrew Dunn (dinnerladies) and Louis Emerick (Brookside) add gravitas to the drama while Bobby Schofield as the shy Lomper just won the hearts of everyone.
And, actor or not, it takes some guts for a heavyweight actor of Martin Miller’s physique, to shed his inhibitions on stage every night.
Finally, a special mention of the four lads sharing the role of Gaz’s son, Nathan. Last night we had Fraser Kelly and he gave a confident turn as the cheeky tug-of-love kid.
I found the men’s performances more persuasive and powerful than the West End cast.
The story could do with beefing up but everyone went home satisfied. The image of Rupert Hill’s quivering buttocks are now etched permanently in my mind.
A tremendous night’s entertainment.
Running on the Derngate stage until Saturday.
Remaining tour dates 2014
Plymouth Theatre Royal, 17 – 22 November Wolverhampton Grand Theatre, 24 – 29 November Theatre Norwich Theatre Royal, 1 – 6 December Brighton Theatre Royal, 8 – 13 December
Milton Keynes Theatre, 19 – 24 January Swansea Grand Theatre, 26 – 31 January Woking New Victoria Theatre, 2 – 7 February Bradford Alhambra Theatre, 9 – 14 February Nottingham Theatre Royal, 16 – 21 February Sunderland Empire, 22 – 27 February Leicester De Montfort Hall, 2 – 7 March Tunbridge Wells Assembly Hall Theatre, 9 – 14 March Llandudno Venue Cymru, 16 – 21 March Ipswich Regent Theatre, 23 – 28 March Aberdeen His Majesty’s Theatre, 30 March – 4 April High Wycombe Swan, 6 – 11 April Bristol Hippodrome, 13 – 18 April Dartford Orchard Theatre, 19 – 25 April Carlisle Sands Centre, 27 April – 2 May Sheffield Lyceum, 4 – 23 May