Boundaries are being smashed and none more so in the last two years when groups have dared to bare in ambitious productions of Calendar Girls and the boy’s version, an Americanised musical of a blue collar comedy which finales with the cast standing full frontal to the audience.
Tring Festival Company opened The Full Monty at The Court Theatre this week and it’s a fantastic and wholly courageous production (and not just for the expertly lit end scene!)
Some of the cast, who have come from as far afield as Luton and Dunstable, are making their debut on stage – what a baptism of fire – while others are old hands in the show. What isn’t in doubt is the tremendous commitment and enthusiasm of everyone concerned.
You can forgive them the awful American accents (with the exception of lead - and a real find – Marc Rolfe as Jerry); you can even forgive the prop malfunction at last night’s show (brilliantly overcome guys). This is one of those life-affirming stories about a group of jobless men finding their self-respect and the loves of their lives and it couldn’t have been done by a better company of actors.
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There’s a bit of a surreal opening when a group of raucous women visit a nightspot in downtown Buffalo, New York, to watch The Chippendales (represented by the very well developed, if you know what I mean, Steve Jones as Buddy “Keno” Walsh). Surreal because in our theatre audience was a group of raucous and noisy women who had obviously thought they were coming to see a male strip show.
It took them until the second Act to calm down and allow everyone else to enjoy the play – although the unusually high number of people toing and froing from their seats throughout made it difficult to concentrate.
The story centres around a group of unemployed men and one very desperate single, divorced, dad, who stands to lose his son unless he comes up with some child support.
Jerry Lukowski hits on the idea of a Chippendales-style group of ordinary men (“The Chippendales are fairies. What women want is real men!” he declares) and comes up with his own male strippers, called Hot Metal, who will clear all their debts with one sensational show. Their edge? To do a Full Monty – that’s go all the way.
That’s a pretty big ask for am-dram actors but they rose to the occasion - so to speak.
These aren’t professional actors, with personal trainers, they are just like their characters. Big Dave (Dave Sims) is fat; Kevyn Connett, as Horse, is anorexically thin (like the before and after of a weight loss programme); Stephen J Davies as jobless manager, Harold, the most mature, and, bringing up the (erm) rear, Jake Alder and Iain Houston as Ethan and Malcolm, a pair of pasty-skinned guys.
Very much the star of the show is Marc Rolfe, making his debut at The Court Theatre, as Jerry. He leads from the front (!) with a charismatic and compelling turn that is both well-acted and well-sung. He’s about as professional as they come with the rest of the ensemble lifting their game to emulate him.
At some point, after the original film came out in 1997, it was decided, no doubt with an eye on the American market, that the stage musical version would shift the action from Sheffield steel workers to American. A genuine reproduction of the film comes to the West End stage in the New Year.
This meant that the company not only had to conquer their nerves about performing a strip in front of their friends, family and a bunch of strangers, but they also had to produce a good American accent. My mother lived near Buffalo most of her life and the wonderful Sharon Allum as wise-cracking piano player Jeanette absolutely nailed it (actually, she, spookily, looked a bit like mum too – that’s how Noo York broads of a certain age like to dress). So too, accent wise, did Sandra Boothroyd-Todd as the gobby Estelle.
It was great to see Kevyn Connett back at the theatre. He’s so thin that he’d probably slip down a drain if he wasn’t careful, but he’s got tremendous stage presence. His rendition of “Big Black Man” (changed to “Big Latino Man” for obvious reasons) brought the house down.
The Full Monty runs until Saturday. Go see. For tickets call the box office 07543 560478 or visit www.courttheatre.co.uk