Review by John Lombard
In director Chris Baldock’s production of The Full Monty, the cast bare it all.
I don’t mean that they take their clothes off, although some of them do that too.
The cast give raw, alive performances that embody life in a working class New York town gutted by unemployment.
This musical adaptation of the popular 1997 British comedy about an amateur striptease has grit, dealing with unemployment, suicide, homosexuality, child custody and debt.
From opening number Scrap, the anger and desperation of these characters pulls you into a world that is grimy and ugly but emotionally real.
Dave Smith plays Jerry, a charismatic no-hoper mired in debt who hits on male striptease as one-off windfall that will help him reclaim his life. His first ally in this quixotic plan is his long-suffering friend Dave (Max Gambale), who joins the escapade to save his failing marriage.
Smith and Gambale are spectacular, digging deep to find the characters within themselves, and revealing so much vulnerability that nudity becomes an afterthought.
The other actors in the dance troupe give accomplished performances. Garrett Kelly gives a hilarious and brilliantly physical performance as Horse, Michael Jordan is classy but feckless as Harold, and Bailey Lutton and Jake Fraser are funny and tender as oddballs that find companionship.
Cole Hilder has an amusing cameo appearance as male stripper Keno, kicking off the show with a thrill for the audience.
Lauren Nihill is extremely entertaining as Jeannette, grizzled veteran of the arts. From the moment she first pops up from behind a piano, her surreal and unpredictable asides are a welcome diversion.
The hidden star of the show is choreographer Jordan Kelly, who is adroitly aware of the skill level of each performer and gives the cast creative moves that reveal character and tell the story. In particular, we see the transition as the characters learn to dance.
The Full Monty grabs you, builds to a thrilling climax, and leaves you feeling energised. But the values of the characters are often bunk. The performing is so vital that we accept most of the racism and sexism as authentic to the world the characters live in, but the characters have a sense of entitlement that deflates our sympathy for them.
Early on, it is clearly established that Jerry could stop being unemployed and start working at any moment. But Jerry finds more dignity in feeling sorry for himself and not paying child support than humbling himself to a clerical paying job. When one character takes a security guard job, Jerry sees this as a failure of nerve rather than adult responsibility. No, much better to take your young child’s college fund and bet it on a strip show. Good going Jerry.
I expected Jerry to grow and change (or if not, fail), but the musical never gives us this resolution. The stage show at the end only defers Jerry actually dealing with his problems. Maybe next year when this one cash windfall amazingly didn’t somehow fix his life he rustles up the gang and they take it to Vegas for The Full Monty 2?
But that’s not to take away from what is in the end a tremendously entertaining night of theatre. This expertly crafted piece of theatre is a genuine accomplishment, a deeply involving show with some great acting and a spectacular finale where the cast Let It Go.