Nobody knows anything: the mystery of the Full Monty closure

A scene from The Full Monty at the Noel Coward Theatre. Photo: Tristram Kenton
Mark Shenton
Mark is associate editor of The Stage, as well as joint lead critic. He has written regularly for The Stage since 2005, including a daily online column.
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As the screenwriter and playwright William Goldman once famously put it in his book about the film business Adventures in the Screen Trade, "Nobody knows anything." (He also wrote an equally compelling behind-the-scenes account of Broadway called The Season, and nobody knew anything there, either).

Nonetheless, I'm still reeling from the news that emerged yesterday that the stage version of The Full Monty that opened just a few weeks ago at the Noel Coward Theatre apparently got its closing notice the night before.

In a world where a jetliner with 238 people on board can disappear without trace, I suppose nothing should surprise us anymore; but The Full Monty appears to be disappearing in full view. Of course, lives are not at stake here, but livelihoods are.

And though there's inevitably an air of mystery around this, there are no secrets anymore: as one of the clearly bewildered cast members Kenny Doughty posted on Facebook yesterday,

Yesterday, on the day we had 2 full houses and 2 standing ovations. In the week our play got an Olivier nomination we were given the shocking news that the play is being pulled. We were summoned to a full company call on stage immediately after curtain call – you could still hear the whoops and cheers from the audience behind the curtain as the producer gave us our 2 weeks notice.

He states that it will duly close on March 29. But though there's no such thing in the theatre as a sure-fire smash hit, I'm as amazed as he is by this news. I'm not saying that it was any kind of theatrical masterpiece, but it had all the ingredients for what I imagined would make it a certified smasheroo: an already beloved title, a smashing production, and the titillating promise of a bit of male nudity. What could go wrong?

And I wasn't the only critic who thought so. In his review for the Daily Telegraph, Charles Spencer wrote,

If ever a show had 'big hit' written all over it then it is this wonderfully entertaining and deeply touching stage version of the successful British film The Full Monty. At the performance I attended, the women in the audience went ape, and the only surprise amid the cackling pandemonium was that none of them saw fit to throw their knickers onto the stage. But although this is a raucous comedy, it is also a work blessed with compassion.

And in The Independent, Paul Taylor wrote that the production "gyrates into the West End and looks destined to be as wildly popular as the celluloid original. Deservedly so, by and large."

Perhaps critics are not the best judges of likely success, of course. Just last week it as announced that We Will Rock You is closing at the end of May after a 12 year at the Dominion Theatre, and that was a show that many of us, myself included, wrote off the moment it opened. As Robert Gore-Langton declared at the time in the Daily Express, “Only hard-core Queen fans can save it from an early bath." In the Sunday Express, I had called it a “grim spectacle” and “tacky, trashy tosh” myself.

As I wrote here last week, "The show, it turns out, has long outrun both Rob and myself, at least as critics on both those titles."

You just can't tell. But though no one wept when Viva Forever closed last year, and few are surprised over the imminent closings of From Here to Eternity or Stephen Ward, I am saddened for The Full Monty. It is done with sincerity and integrity, and Sheffield's Lyceum who originated it were no doubt hoping for a healthy return from it.

Can audiences now rush to save it? Already there's an online petition to try to do so. Of course, signing a petition for free isn't what the producers need - they need people to buy tickets. But maybe the publicity around its closure will encourage audiences to do so. Could the announcement of closure even result in enough ticket sales to keep it running?