Preview: The Full Monty

Simon Beaufoy’s tale about stripping off in the face of unemployment has found new relevance 16 years after its film release. Kevin Bourke meets the Yorkshire writer

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Years ago, it was a shock to me when I saw the posters for The Full Monty film saying it was a feelgood comedy,” remembers its writer Simon Beaufoy. “It seemed a strange phrase to associate with a group of characters who are dealing with the crushing loss of self-esteem that unemployment brings, as well as obesity, suicide, marital breakdown and impotence.

“To me, the comedy was simply the coping mechanism that got them through the day. It’s a northern way of dealing with things, and everyone comes out on a big high because there’s a wave of excitement when they get their kit off that’s not about titillation. It’s about these men being brave enough to do this thing.”

Now, as we wallow in a new recession where the unemployed are hidden and jobs are miraculously on the increase, Beaufoy has turned that original film script into a stage play that is once again hitting the spot without resorting to crude sloganising.

“The recession of the late 1980s was a very visible humiliation,” points out the Keighley-born writer. “In Sheffield, the tens of thousands who were dumped from the steel industry within a matter of months hadn’t even considered unemployment until it swept over them. They were often in the same works as their dad, which was often the same works as their granddad. It might have been hot, dangerous, monotonous work, but it was work that you were proud of.

“Now, unlike the 1980s, the unemployed are kept safely out of sight, at home tapping computer screens to find jobs, manoeuvred out of the statistics on to phantom job programmes, jumping from one part-time job to another to pay the rent.”

Beaufoy had nothing to do with another, thankfully short-lived stage version and would thank you not to mention it.

But Rochdale-born Kieran O’Brien, who plays Guy in this touring version, speaks up on his behalf. “That was just a musical,” he fairly spits. “This is a real play, even though we have songs from the film. It resonates now, when we’re still seeing the working classes getting stuffed. Audiences get the politics even if they’ve come on a hen night.

“It’s different to the film, of course, and there are new scenes, some new dialogue – it’s a different piece with the same story. If people love the film, they’ll adore this play,” he asserts, suddenly mindful of his role in helping to sell it.

Mind you, he’s no stranger to controversy. Remember Michael Winterbottom’s 2004 film 9 Songs? O’Brien was the male lead in a film that, to the horror of the tabloid press, featured unsimulated and very graphic sex with his co-star Margo Stilley and, to date, he is the only male actor shown ejaculating in a mainstream UK feature.

“The general consensus of opinion was to push it as far as we could but I wouldn’t say that was my calling card,” he wryly observes.

He’s also worked with Winterbottom on the upcoming The Look Of Love, in which Steve Coogan stars as Soho porn king, Paul Raymond.

“Winterbottom’s a genius and so’s Daniel Evans, our director on this. But I wouldn’t have done it if Simon Beaufoy hadn’t been involved. He was the guarantee of integrity.”

“It’s really about hope,” Beaufoy insists. “We believe in the characters because they’re real. They’re the absolute opposite of men with beautiful bodies, and that’s what makes them so courageous.Over the years I’ve realised it’s the end response, when people come out of a cinema or a theatre, that matters, and the more complex parts can be thought about later.

“With The Full Monty that final image is about the triumph of the human spirit when these men are at their lowest ebb, and that’s what people respond to.”

The Full Monty is at the Lowry, Salford, on 15-20 April. The Look Of Love is released in cinemas on 26 April

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