The Theatreguide.London Review
Noel Coward Theatre March 2014
Unemployed steelworkers keep themselves busy, raise some money and affirm their manhoods by putting together a Chippendales-style strip act.
This is not a revival of the musical based on the 1997 film that played London a decade ago, but a new adaptation by Simon Beaufoy of his original filmscript, transferring to London from a premiere in Sheffield (not coincidentally the city in which the play is set).
As in the film, the stage version has a mix of warm comedy and the darker drama of the men's joblessness and its psychological toll on them and their families – to which might be added the girls'-night-out fun of the climax, which is staged to rouse the utmost whooping and cheering from the ladies in the audience.
Perhaps because Beaufoy has enhanced all three strands, or just because of theatre's immediacy, the comedy, humour and naughtiness all make a stronger impact than what I remember as a mild-toned film. That also means that they occasionally clash, the shifting of gears from one tone to another being a bit too abrupt.
But there is no doubt that you are drawn into the pain of the man whose lack of income threatens his ability to see his beloved son, or the one whose sense of not being man enough has made him impotent, or the one who has kept his unemployment secret from his wife out of shame.
At the same time, a lot of legitimate fun is drawn out of watching these guys try to learn how to dance or facing the prospect of stripping. And hell, even though it's a complete break in tone and mode from the rest of the show, you'd have to be a bluer meanie than I to resent the sudden rush of hormones that attacks every woman in the audience when the guys go into their act.
(One thing I do miss from the film, perhaps because we don't see too many of the women, is the sense of the whole community, and not just these six guys, being energised and validated by their accomplishment.)
Daniel Evans directs with an awareness of our memory of the film but an appreciation of the need to translate things into stage terms, and the only moment that doesn't quite work is the iconic dancing-in-the-dole-queue scene.
With designer Robert Jones, Evans puts key scenes in the closed-down steel mill, and then keeps that set visible even when the action moves elsewhere, so the dominant fact in these men's lives – that their livelihood and manhood has been taken from them – is ever-present.
Performances are solid all around, with special honours to Kenny Doughty as the frustrated father, Roger Morlidge as the man unable to be a husband and Craig Gazey as a nerdy gay guy whose re-asserted manhood lies in coming out.
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