Sitting in on The Full Monty ‘undress’ rehearsal - it’s at Cambridge Arts Theatre this month!

Anthony Lewis, Chris Fountain, Kai Owen, Gary Lucy, Louis Emerick and Andrew Dunn in The Full Monty

Anthony Lewis, Chris Fountain, Kai Owen, Gary Lucy, Louis Emerick and Andrew Dunn in The Full Monty - Credit: Archant

It’s a dirty job but someone’s got to do it… Sarah Cliss gets hot and bothered as she sits in on rehearsals for the new tour of The Full Monty...

Andrew Dunn, Kai Owen, Chris Fountain (back), Antony Lewis, Louis Emerick and Gary Lucy in The Full

Andrew Dunn, Kai Owen, Chris Fountain (back), Antony Lewis, Louis Emerick and Gary Lucy in The Full Monty - Credit: Archant

As I enter the building in North London that is housing rehearsals for The Full Monty I swear I can smell the testosterone from the bottom of three flights of stairs. Making my way to the top floor I enter an almost exclusively man’s world, where I am promptly (and warmly) greeted by some of our best and buffest actors.

Accompanied to a seat by ex-EastEnders hottie Jack Ryder – who it transpires is also an accomplished director – I happily acknowledge that, as Monday mornings go, this middle-aged woman has had far, far worse.

But all joking (and drooling) aside, the stage version of The Full Monty is a joy. Adapted from his own smash-hit movie, writer Simon Beaufoy (The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Salmon Fishing in Yemen, 127 Hours and Slumdog Millionaire) has somehow managed to retain all the warmth and charm of the film, while overcoming the obvious setting difficulties that the stage production throws up. Already sold out at several dates, some venues have added in additional performances to keep pace with demand.

“We sold out the last time we toured the show and it looks like we’re going to do the same again,” says Gary Lucy (EastEnders, The Bill, Footballers’ Wives and She’s Gone), still managing to look gorgeous while shovelling down lunchtime chicken and spuds in the canteen.

And having done four previous tours of the show (bagging the UK Theatre Award for Best Touring Production along the way), Gary knows what to expect.

“The audiences love it because it’s got a bit of everything; laughs, a few tears and of course the story of the journey these guys go on. At the end, even the guys who have been dragged along to see it by their wives or girlfriends are on their feet. It’s testimony to Simon’s brilliant writing.”

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The story of six out-of-work Sheffield steelworkers who, with nothing left to lose but face, decide to put on a male strip show, the movie became one of the most successful British films ever made. Sadly, parts of the story still resonate today.

“Just look at the recent news of companies like BHS,” observes Andrew Dunn, who plays Gerald.

Far dishier in the flesh than he is as Tony in Dinnerladies, Andrew is sitting with the play’s other ‘more mature’ gent; Louis Emerick who plays ‘Horse.’

“Audiences leave the theatre happy and smiling, which is bizarre given the subject matter, but Simon has created something very joyful. It’s great to hear how much they have enjoyed themselves,” Louis tells me, tactfully ignoring my look of gormless adoration (be still my beating heart – it might be fifteen years since he last appeared as Brookside hunk Mick Johnson, but he’s still just as fit!).

All agreeing that the combination of gallows humour, pathos and camaraderie gives the play broad appeal, ‘the boys’ also reckon that, although it is predominately women who book the tickets, this is actually very much a man’s show.

“A lot of the themes are very relevant to men,” points out Anthony Lewis (playing ‘Lomper’ and most recently on our screens as Marc Reynolds in Emmerdale). “Body weight issues, blokes toying with their sexuality, suicide, the lengths people will go to for their kids – it’s all in there.”

Playing Guy, Chris Fountain (formerly Justin Burton in Hollyoaks and Tommy Duckworth in Coronation Street) chips in: “As soon as I got the part I watched the film again and I was reminded just how good it is.”

Pushing his knife and fork together he grins and adds: “I’m also a Yorkshireman myself so it’s nice to be able to talk in my own accent!”

Best known for his portrayals of Rhys in Torchwood and as Pete in Hollyoaks, Kai Owen who plays Dave says that anyone hoping that the play is faithful to the film can rest assured.

“This really is the film on stage. It’s got all the laughs and all the emotions. You feel for the characters as you tell their stories, but these boys are down to earth and have that fantastic laugh-in-the-face-of-adversity Northern humour. They are absolutely skint and they’re losing their jobs and their self-esteem, yet there is still massive warmth; they’re still having a laugh and dreaming up schemes, and they are there for each other.”

Ah, but as actors are they all there for each other when it comes to the bit in rehearsals when they have to get their kit off for the first time? Andrew recalls the moment on the previous tour with a broad smile.

“Finally the day came and we tipped everyone out of the rehearsal room, covered the windows and locked the door. But after that it was fine. You just get on with it. There’s a lot more to the show than stripping.”

As for life on tour, the boys are all upbeat. Being away from family might make them heart sore, but they relish the opportunities for sightseeing and getting to know the towns and cities they visit.

“I walk for Britain and Louis sleeps for Britain,” laughs Andrew, “but we do all get out and about to explore.”

Describing Cambridge audiences as particularly enthusiastic, the cast are looking forward to taking the show to the Arts Theatre.

“It will be fantastic to take The Full Monty to Cambridge,” says Gary, adding that there are already plans afoot for various sightseeing activities.

It has been a fascinating morning but, alas, it’s time for me to bid these lovely lads farewell.

Out in the much-needed fresh air it occurs to me that The Full Monty isn’t exclusively a man’s or a woman’s play. Touching, inspiring and resonating with anyone whose self-esteem has ever taken a walloping, it is simply the perfect prescription for anyone who wants to leave the theatre with their heart warmed, their joy unleashed and their faith in humanity restored. That the leading actors just happen to be drop-dead gorgeous sweethearts is just a happy bonus…