Prepare to cheer, whistle and cat call a group of ‘real men’ as they strip down their souls and their paints in Stage Art’s The Fully Monty. Inspired by the 1997 British film, the musical is set in America, with a book by Terrance McNally and music and lyrics by David Yazbek.
Stage Art opened their first show at the National Theatre this week, packed with a strong cast and a different celebrity cameo each night. The show presents a journey through 90s masculinity; to dance, they have to make it basketball, and a woman’s place is in the home. If we get past the shock value of men going ‘the fully Monty’ on stage, this show is all about relationships and the lengths we will go to for the people we love. It shines a light on body confidence and insecurity, and portrays a simple but genuine storyline between two men, Malcolm MacGregor (Montgomery Wilson) and Ethan Girard (Adam Perryman).
Performances by the leading men are stellar. Scott Mackenzie, who plays Jerry Lukowski, is a gravelly, rockstar-esque leader of the men laid off from the factory. He nails the variation between aggressive in ‘Scrap’, passionate and energetic in his numbers with Dave (played by Giancarlo Salamanca), and tender and raw look at a father’s love in ‘Breeze off the River’. Alexander Glenk, playing his son Nathan, looks like he could actually be Mackenzie’s son, and is an honest and enthusiastic young performer.
Jeanette Burmeister is a feisty and wonderful character played by Barbara Hughes, whose energy, comedic timing and sassy lines as the rehearsal pianist and accompanist shine throughout the show. The women of the show have a smaller role, but they command the stage and the audience’s attention in numbers like ‘It’s a Woman’s World’, ‘The Goods’ and ‘You Rule My World (reprise). Wilson and Perryman as the quirky Malcolm and Ethan are standouts for their charm, “glitter” and strong character, as well as for being a trigger for LGBTI acceptance in the show.
The costumes are well styled to American 90s fashion, but Salamanca’s ‘fat suit’ is oddly shaped and obvious to the audience. He still nails the self confidence issues and discovery of an overweight man, and his dopey charm, devotion to his wife Georgie (played by Sophie Weiss) and daggy dancing make him one of the show’s most endearing characters.
The big finale, as all may be anticipating, is one of the slickest and well coordinated numbers in the show, with the six leading men stripping it all off and bearing full frontal nudity to the audience. This is well down with back and front lighting in order to silhouette the performers in a way that is alluring, gives you just a little peek, while still being extremely tasteful.
The set was simple, with an industrial perspective using scaffolding, and the show utilizes the side stage space, traipsing into the audience towards the end of the show in the club scenes, which encompasses the audience into the energy and excitement of the show. The stage, being such a large space at The National Theatre, is filled up with an on stage band, who rock all of the music in full view of the audience. A combination of projection and screens are used to create different spaces, and while this is well done, the set changes, screen changes and some of the lighting that goes with the transitions was a little slow. Sometimes, the screen or set pieces would start to move before cues, and same with the lighting cues, but I guess opening night nerves can get to everyone. There were a number of moments early on in the show, where downstage actors were performing in the dark, but this was quickly ironed out as the show progressed.
“It’s different, we’re men, they wouldn’t do that”: Sexism and inequality is at the heart of this show and it is set at a time where these mind sets were not just acceptable, they were the norm. It was normal for men to want to be the sole breadwinner, the women to be told to be at home, looking after the kids, and for “real men” to use derogatory slurs towards the LGBTI community. For the younger audience at the show, this language and behaviour feels outdated and offensive, and for that we can be grateful, as part of a more accepting and progressive society compared to the setting of The Full Monty, around 20 years ago in America. This is a stellar performance that shows a journey to accepting yourself and others, forgiveness and telling gender expectations and stereotypes where to stick it.
A raucous, fun night out at the theatre, The Full Monty is taking it all off at The National Theatre until 19th March.