REVIEW: The Full Monty, Sunderland Empire, until February 28

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STAGE adaptations of a silver screen classic rarely surpass the original - but hats off to The Full Monty, it’s done just that.

I enjoyed this musical even more than the 1997 film from which it’s spawned.

All the elements which made the film iconic are there: the famous Hot Stuff hip-thrusting scene while in the job centre queue, the comedy, the pathos, the bubbling political undercurrent about what happens to Northern cities when their primary industry is ripped away.

But what’s added in the stage version is a real sense of engagement with the characters, you become the audience in their striptease show as they resort to de-robing in a bid to make ends meet.

It’s perhaps easy to dismiss main man Gary Lucy as a heart-throb soap actor and, though he certainly still has the ability to make the ladies swoon as he did in Hollyoaks and Eastenders, he really shows off his acting chops in this production.

Hard to believe this is his first stage role as he gives a thoroughly compelling performance as the former steelworker grafting to see and support his son, Nathan, in the face of objections from his estranged wife. He owned the role, no mean feat when it’s one made famous by the excellent Robert Carlyle.

He’s joined on stage by a band of complex brothers who each brings something great to the piece, there’s not one weak link. Martin Miller’s witty comic timing is a treat as tubby Dave who’s been emasculated by the loss of the steel industry; Andrew Dunn as Gerald is just as rib-tickling as he was in Dinnerladies; Louis Emerick is passionate as Horse, Rupert Hill is ballsy as Guy and Bobby Schofield gives a truly empathetic performance of tortured soul Lomper.

Though this is a musical, the men don’t sing the soundtrack - this is far from a jazz hands show - but it doesn’t detract from your enjoyment of a great score which includes hits by Donna Summer, Hot Chocolate and Tom Jones.

You can’t help but feel part of the action as the energy builds to the cheeky climactic closing scene. Do they go The Full Monty? You bet your bottom dollar they do, but clever lighting means you don’t get too much of an eyeful. (Though a wardrobe malfunction with Gary Lucy’s thong meant we saw more than we bargained for on press night, much to the delight of the whooping crowd.)

Chippendales they may not be, but I’d rather see this blue steel production any day.

Who would have thought unemployment, loss of self-esteem and rocky relationships could be so utterly and thoroughly uplifting?