Occasionally I feel for actors. Every now and then I stroll cheerfully into a dressing room to do an interview and realise I’m number 21 of 23 that day, and that there’s a probability far greater than that of me winning the Euromillions that my questions won’t be hugely different to those of journalists 1-20.
That’s the case with Kenny Doughty and Craig Gazey, two of the sextet of actors currently warming the cockles, tickling the funny bones and inducing the exercising of whooping glands in the stage adaptation of The Full Monty.
So we chat about football. Both Doughty and Gazey are Man Utd fans and welcome discussion of Sir Alex, the £15 million spent on unused wonderkid Wilfried Zaha and…
But my stab at originality dries up faster than a lidless highlighter, and soon we’re discussing the stage production that takes audiences back to a 1980s Sheffield, where the closing of steelworks have left generations of men unemployed and where a troupe of male strippers performing at a working men’s club sparks an idea in a dad struggling desperately to do the best for his son. It’s the story that won international hearts as a film. It’s doing the same in the West End, as Doughty and Gazey told us…
How are you feeling about bringing the show to the West End?
Doughty: I’m super excited. It was always one of my dreams as a kid to play in the West End. That opportunity’s here now and I’m really excited about it.
Gazey: The tour was by no means a warm up, but this is certainly the cream on the cake. We’ve all worked so hard towards this. I like that it’s a limited season and we’re not trying to see how long we can stay here. We’ve come here for 16 weeks. People need to get a move on.
Doughty: On tour, there’s been this unbelievable love and response from people who want to come and see it again. There’s been as much love for this as a play as there was for the film. That’s down to Simon [Beaufoy, the writer] really and his ability to adapt his own film and put it on the stage, keep what everyone loved about the film but make it a piece of theatre. That’s what makes it, for me, really special. You feel like you’re in a play, you’re not just putting the film on stage. I’m from Barnsley, which is six miles away from Sheffield. I was brought up on the film. In my household to put this on stage and take it back to South Yorkshire was a really big thing.
Did that make you nervous about being part of the show?
Doughty: I wasn’t nervous about those comparisons, because I think the play is its own thing. But in Sheffield there is a huge responsibility to portray the steelworkers whose stories we’re telling. I was more anxious about telling their story and not taking the piss, not just going it’s six blokes getting their kit off, but really telling the narrative of the story and of the characters.
Gazey: I felt a certain amount of pressure, not in a negative way, but there was this energy from the creative team, from the actors, to really tell this story again in a different way.
Doughty: Very early on our wonderful director Daniel Evans said: “This is our story now, the chemistry between the lads is different, the cast is different, so therefore it will be a different beast.”
What was lovely about the process was we had Simon in the rehearsal room when we first did this last year, for seven weeks. We were all there to protect the author’s work, but Simon was very open to changing and adapting how we interpreted and extend the characters’ lives. He was so for the ensemble. That in itself meant that we all felt incredibly passionate and inclusive about this piece of work, because Simon was adapting for us, he was taking our notes, we were taking his. This was our piece. You can’t help but fall in love with that, because you’re invested. There’s a genuine ownership.
What was it like stripping for the first time?
Doughty: There’s six lads and we got naked very early on. Naked Tuesdays. We had a great choreographer, Steven Hoggett, who’s just phenomenal. Before we started rehearsals we all got together to learn about our bodies and learn to dance, because none of us are dancers. We did this exercise where we walked from one end of the room to the other and took an item of clothing off until we were naked. Then we had a look around and went “That’s done isn’t it?” When we actually did it for the audience that first Saturday preview I was quite anxious…
Gazey: This is my fourth play doing it now, so I was just glad to have other people to do it with. I did a tour of Funny Peculiar. I had to drop my clothes and stand there on my own. So here it wasn’t really an issue for me. What is lovely is it’s about a group of guys who find this empowerment, and we’ve gone through that journey and that story, we feel like we’re those guys that are doing it. We’re not strippers. We’ve not got beautiful bodies. We’ve made sure we’re real men. I think a lot of men that have been to see this really feel for the lads. That’s what it’s about. That’s their story.
Doughty: There’s a nice moment. It happens every night. Simon Rouse and I always have this look at each other and it’s a crossover of the character and the actor going “We’re doing it again, aren’t we?” There’s a little wink and a smile. There’s a lovely feeling of life imitating art imitating life. At that moment in the play we kind of break the fourth wall. We open it up to the audience as the audience in the story. That sometimes is terrifying, the audience’s reaction to it, their eagerness and anticipation about what’s going to happen. Of course, there’s a mixture of “Are they really going to do it?” but there’s also – and I hope I’m not naive in saying this – a real love for the characters’ stories and why they’re doing it to get to this point. Especially for someone like Roger who plays Dave, who’s overweight and lost his sex drive. There’s a sense of “I look like this but I’m going to own it!”
Gazey: Even after doing it 140 times, there’s still this look at each other like “We’re doing it!”
Do you ever worry about the audience catching the finale on their phones?
Gazey: It’s naughty.
Doughty: They are out there, but a quiet army of the theatre’s staff comes around and tries to police it as much as possible.
Gazey: We grass them up if we see them as well. I’ve been known to point out people. I don’t want to sound bitter, but I think it is slightly unfair. We’re performers, we should have our privacy. I sometimes think it’s great we’ve got all this technology, but why don’t we live in the moment? If you spend all your life remembering everything through documentation, you were only doing it to remember it rather than be in the moment. Don’t watch it through your camera, you’ve just paid for a seat, watch it with your eyes and live for now!
"Simon and I have this look. It’s a crossover of character and actor going “We’re doing it again, aren’t we?” There’s a little wink and a smile."