We’ll soon be welcoming Sheffield’s finest into our theatre, with the return of The Full Monty, this time starring Gary Lucy. We hear from Simon Beaufoy, who wrote both the original screenplay and the stage adaptation.
In 1997, a British film about a group of unemployed steel workers became a surprise worldwide hit. No-one was more surprised by the success of The Full Monty than its screenwriter Simon Beaufoy, who’s since gone on to work on films like Slumdog Millionaire and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. The Full Monty was his first screenplay: “It was strange and unexpected that it was such a success; a very odd but fantastic introduction to the film world.”
However, it’s fair to say that the idea behind the story – as presented to him by an Italian producer, didn’t exactly capture his imagination at first: “He came to me with an idea about a group of men hanging out in the gym together, which I didn’t think was terribly interesting. Then he suggested that it was an all-male strip thing, which again I didn’t think much of. But then I started to consider what might make British working class men do something like that. It became about unemployment and the fact that their pride had been taken away with their jobs and suddenly it got very interesting.”
From that point, it was plain sailing: “As a student, I had a holiday job cleaning machine tools in a factory and a lot of the characters are very familiar to me. I knew these men. I grew up in West Yorkshire where, when things got desperate, you joked about it because humour was all you had. It’s a very Northern thing but the worse things get, the better the jokes are. It’s a coping strategy. These blokes are in a bit of a desperate state and they are trying to understand the world emotionally. Everyone recognises the characters so well; men who would rather talk about anything than what they are feeling and who find expressing themselves incredibly difficult.”
The success of the film led eventually to a successful stage version the story, which was so successful it’s now touring the country again. But there were challenges for Simon in translating his story from screen to stage: “With film you can take your audience wherever you want to go in a twenty-fourth of a second; you can go anywhere, which when you’re making it is a nightmare but lovely when you’re watching it. Lee Hall who wrote Billy Elliot told me that the really difficult thing about theatre is how you get everyone on stage and off again. It’s true; getting the story told without the ease of cutting to a new location the way you can in film is a real challenge. But then the great luxury with theatre is that it is all about words; you boil everything down to get a lovely simplicity that focuses on the characters and their stories.”
And there are further advantages to stage over screen: “It should have been a play first really because by the end the audience is sitting in a seat about to watch a strip show, so you can literally take them with you. Although in the first draft they didn’t even take their clothes off – it was ridiculous! You can’t have 90 pages talking about taking their clothes off and then not do it!”
Simon’s hope is that anyone coming to see the play will have a “wonderful and uproarious evening”. We think there’s a pretty high chance of that!
The Full Monty: Monday 20 to Saturday 25 February. Book here.