This exuberant stage adaptation, written by Simon Beaufoy and based on his 1997 film about stripping steelworkers, comes to the capital from its original home in Sheffield. In one scene, a smirking bust of Margaret Thatcher comes in for some abuse. The recent sad decline and death of the Iron Lady lends the scene a bittersweet tone; this is almost a period piece now, its raunchiness tame when set against the ubiquity of internet porn, its political agenda about the dignity of work almost quaint in the era of Channel 4’s “reality” TV series Benefits Street.
Beaufoy has reduced his six stripping steelworkers to basic types: crudely, the fit one, the fat one, the black one, the gay one, the dopey one and the old one. But each character is written and portrayed with individuality, gusto and charm. Gaz (Kenny Doughty) is the likeably lazy divorced father devoted to his son Nathan. Simon Rouse is the gnome-loving Gerald, an older, Tory-voting dance aficionado who can’t bring himself to tell his wife that he has lost his job. He and Roger Morlidge as tubby Dave have notable moments of poignancy amid the general get-your-kit-off hilarity. Even a comparatively thin role such as Horse (Sidney Cole) is made likeable and memorable with the lightest of strokes. Craig Gazey excels as slow-tempo Lomper, the security guard with a secret, who can stretch an unlikely laugh from a line like “Me mum’s disabled.” Kieran O’Brien completes the sextet as the cheery, out-and-proud Guy.
Robert Jones’s set evokes the vast open spaces of the derelict factory where the sacked workers rehearse; not only are there thrilling moments with electrical sparks, heavy machinery, wobbling girders and sprinkler systems; but when the back doors slide open, a glorious cityscape of streetlit Sheffield glows in the distance.
This is feel-good entertainment, impossible to dislike; yet at a deeper level it plays with our feelings of discomfort at this parody of male sexuality. In one gloriously mortifying scene, Gaz wiggles manfully to Hot Chocolate’s “You Sexy Thing”. But in a play so astute about male vulnerability, it’s a shame the female roles should be so scanty. There are some brief comic turns such as Elaine Glover’s monstrous Bee, and Caroline Carver makes the best of a bad job as Mandy, Gaz’s estranged wife, but it’s left to Rachel Lumberg to bring real poignancy to the role of Dave’s confused and lonely wife Jean.