For those unfamiliar with the popular 90s Brit flick, protagonist Gaz (Kenny Doughty) needs fast cash or he will be denied access to his son. But in the bleak, recession-hit climate of late eighties Thatcherism, any prospect of a job for him or his hapless chums seems entirely out of reach. The answer to their predicament is to strip for money. So far, so noble, but this well-meaning storyline is consistently drowned in dated gags and smut, which is all well and good for the first act or so, but hinders the more poignant moments with a lack of meaning.
The jokes seem dated and often commit the sin of adding an extra expletive to give a more hard-hitting punch line. Alliteration goes down a storm with the merry audience too, with Craig Gazey’s (Lomper) line of “You’ve got knockers, and we’re after knobs” getting one of the biggest laughs of the night, indicating the kind of audience tastes that Beaufoy is truly targeting. However, I am just a sober observer on a dreary Tuesday evening. I was repeatedly made aware from the female company surrounding me – and their shrieks of delights – that after a few glasses of warm Pinot, nothing, clearly, is funnier than a few men nervously getting their kit off, especially if they’re a bit chubby or have any other body hang-ups.
There are touching subplots that run through the production however, such as Lomper’s struggle with his sexuality as he cautiously edges out of the closet with the help of out-and-proud Guy (Kieran O’Brien). There is also the heart-warming relationship we see evolving between Dave (Roger Morlidge) and wife Jean (Rachel Lumberg), whose marriage is under strain due to his lack of income and, consequentially, his apparent lack of interest in her. But will all of those inebriated girls on hen nights give a chuff about any of that? I shouldn’t think so. It’s a shame as Beaufoy’s production, if pitched a little better, could have meaningful points to make regarding the economic misery of the late 1980s and the impact it had on jobless communities.
A worthy mention should go to Jack Hollington for his portrayal of Nathan, Gaz’s wise-beyond-his-years son, whose comic timing and ability to pull a little at the heart strings are just right. The smooth transitions of the set, from steel factory to nightclub to dole queue, are also very successful, allowing the various plots to gather momentum nicely without dragging.
All in all there is nothing wrong with Beaufoy’s production, but for me it has nothing new to say from what we all saw in the cinema twenty years ago. It is not an enlightening night at the theatre, but with the show sure to draw in hen parties and much more from all over, I have no doubt that it will run for a good while to come.
First published for AYoungerTheatre.com