AN INSTANTLY recognisable title, five Academy Award nominations, and – in its time – the highest-earning box-office hit ever made in Britain: The Full Monty is such a huge showbusiness phenomenon that it’s easy to forget just what a brave, beautiful and quietly political drama it is, about what men are supposed to do, when the labour market has finally thrown them on the scrapheap.
King’s Theatre, Edinburgh ****
Oran Mor, Glasgow ***
Yet this latest stage version of the show – designed as a play, rather than a musical – might have been made to remind us of the sheer quality of Simon Beaufoy’s script, as he sketches out the lives of his leading character Gaz (powerfully played here by EastEnders star Gary Lucy) and his fellow former workers at a closed-down steel plant in Sheffield, who conceive the idea of capitalising on the one asset they still have, and selling themselves as Chippendale-style male strippers.
It’s a superb idea, a supremely funny and accessible popular version of the in-your-face drama of the 1990s, which also often confronted the plight of people with nothing left to sell but themselves. Jack Ryder’s production does full justice to the play’s rich combination of comedy and drama, as it deals with issues ranging from fathers’ rights to coming out as gay in a working-class community;
Gary Lucy and Kai Owen turn in a fine double-act as close friends Gaz and Dave, Fiona Skinner acts up a storm as Dave’s neglected wife, Jean. And if the audience never quite gets to glimpse the complete nudity promised in the title, that’s perhaps fair enough; in a piece of popular drama that pulls no punches about the humiliation of unemployment, but treats its characters with real affection and dignity, to the end.
There’s plenty of affection, too, in James Runcie’s richly enjoyable if slightly caricatured account of the visit made to Scotland in 1773 by the great Dr Samuel Johnson and his eager Scottish friend and companion James Boswell. Like his earlier play about Johnson’s efforts to complete his dictionary, James Runcie’s latest show for A Play, A Pie And A Pint uses the figure of the great man to explore the fraught relationship between Scotland and England, which sometimes seems to have changed very little in 240 years.
So Simon Donaldson’s intense young Boswell brings Lewis Howden’s perfectly-pitched Johnson to Scotland in the hope of persuading him that the place is not the oat-eating backwater he expects; but finds himself mercilessly teased by a friend and patron who is occasionally impressed, but more often irrepressibly rude.
Johnson insists he is only joking, Boswell points out that jokes must contain a grain of truth; and with Gerda Stevenson and Morna Young providing stalwart if stereotyped support as everyone from a pair of coach-horses to Flora McDonald, the pair deliver a thoughtfully-compiled tour of Johnson’s reflections that – at the last – show us the great man at least inclined to think a little more kindly, in future, of England’s sceptical northern neighbour.
The Full Monty, final performances today. Dr Johnson Goes To Scotland is at Oran Mor today, then at the Traverse, Edinburgh, next week.