Virtually everyone has seen The 1997 film, The Full Monty, a tale of six unemployed steel workers from Sheffield who form a male strip act to make money. Unlike the Chippendales, however, these ordinary guys have to go all the way to get their audience.
It was different again seeing this ‘crisis of masculinity’ film as a live stage musical at the Old Jointstock Theatre in Birmingham. The theatre is upstairs at the back of an old bank building originally designed as a library by Julius Alfred Chatwin in 1862 before becoming the Birmingham Jointstock Bank. Lloyd’s bank took it over in 1889, the year Birmingham became a city. The theatre, near the cathedral, is part of a grade II listed building, the 100 seat black box theatre created in 2006, brilliant for intimate performances. I wasn’t sure if The Full Monty might be more intimate than I’d like close up, to be honest.
At first I was dismayed to see the musical version focused on raucous women, and was also set in Buffalo, America. However, I dropped my prejudices and much of the performance was true to the film, as the characters were developed. Jerry is the equivalent of Gary in the film, the slightly irresponsible guy who can’t pay his child maintenance. Dave is the ‘fat bastard’ who struggles to maintain a relationship with his wife due to his own self image and perceived failings. Gerald is the former foreman who tries to buy his wife everything to keep her happy. He dreads telling her he’s lost her job and the holidays and furniture are off! Then there is suicidal celibate Lomper the security guard, Guy, the wall runner who becomes his partner, and Horse, the older black guy who can really move! Full of stereotypes but we all recognise them.
In many ways, the story is a fairy tale. The guys pull it off, after all, and they are supported by their womenfolk. One suspects it would not happen quite so easily in real life, but it is a miniature examination of male friendship, male identity, sexuality, and male/female partnership. The musical had different music to the film, and employed minimal scenery but because we all knew the story, that was pretty irrelevant. The characters quickly came to life, and the audience rapidly felt engaged. Certain scenes brought a tear to the eyes, but the evening was largely great fun, though I was even more thrilled to discover this gem of a place tucked away in my home city. I will return!