On stage in Birmingham’s atmospheric Alexandra Theatre was a simplistic scaffold set initially bathed in a smoky, blueish hue. Sexy chart toppers from the likes of ‘Hot Chocolate’ and Flashdance ’95 accompanied well-oiled transitions in which this very set became an abandoned warehouse, a dance classroom, a police station, and of course the perfect stage for six wannabe strippers.
When half seven finally arrived, chatter dissolved into eager anticipation as the ‘steamy’ sextet strutted on stage to ecstatic screams. Ten-year-old Nathan (played on Tuesday night by Rowan Poulton) kicked off the quip-laden dialogue and had the audience enamoured with his feisty yet sweet, cocky yet touching youth. Though a debut performance, Poulton exuded striking confidence and professionalism throughout.
We were plunged right into the depths of post-industrial Sheffield, reminiscent for those that still recall the days of Thatcher and the box TV but hitting home with all the issues of the era. What with the intensity of the themes covered, anyone would assume you’d need at least a week to prepare before braving the auditorium. But do not worry. Director Michael Gyngell made sure this did not dominate the experience, with an exceptional mélange of raw feeling and laddish humour (that was actually funny based on constant giggles from the largely female audience).
Heartbreakingly real, but by no means depressing, for writer Simon Beaufoy it is not a comedy, but a ‘play with jokes’; I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, and it was fabulous. So fabulous in fact, that during the hilarious dance to ‘Hot Stuff’ my plus-one turned to me through tears of laughter to tell me it was even more amazing than the film.
What struck me most throughout was the incredible bravery of the actors. All flaunting extensive resumés, they tackled the taboo themes with elegance. Though they may learn to lose their stiff upper lip to offer stilted fraternal advice, never once do they lose their pride.
Covering everything from sexuality and depression to impotency and floundering relationships -whilst of course uncovering themselves – we are also taught a lesson of self-love. What I enjoyed most was experiencing another, more vulnerable side to manhood that the media is often reluctant to expose. The one that grapples with mental health, body image and powerful paternal love; battles which remain evermore prominent today.
All of the above accumulates and intertwines until the famous final scene where it all comes together in a euphoric celebration of humanity. Though more suited to more mature audiences, it is all in good taste and will doubtless be appreciated by both old and young - but not too young!
When asked what he hopes the audience will gain, Danny Hatchard (acing the role of the much-loved Gaz) replied with three words: “Pure, unadulterated happiness”. Truth be told, at the end of the two hours, not one person lacked a smile. As cliché as it may be, truly heart-warming is the word.
Whilst they may not be able to sing, dance (although this is debatable) or grow a ‘pair of knockers’ there is one thing they can all do… and in my opinion, the talented cast and the ‘bums of steel’ couldn’t have deserved their standing ovation more.