THE writer of the screenplay for smash-hit Sheffield film The Full Monty is back in the city to re-create the story for the Crucible stage.
Simon Beaufoy is excited at the opportunity but admits he is pretty nervous at bringing the show to a Sheffield audience.
He said: “It’s important to me we get it right for this city of all the cities it tours to. If they don’t love it here, we’ve failed.”
Simon joined the cast, “all good Northern lads”, on a bus tour of the places where the story is based, to help them to get the most authentic feel possible.
He said that, in typical Sheffield fashion, once the coach driver realised that a Welshman, Sheffield Theatres artistic director Daniel Evans, was attempting to talk about the city’s steel heritage, he took over and said, “I’ll tell you the real story!”
He said that the coach passed one of the steel mills. “It had the roller door open and it was just like the set, with a crane and girders. It is very authentic and a very flexible space to work.
“It’s beautiful like derelict things are, with the faded grandeur of an age where magnificent things have happened.”
The type of friendliness shown by the coach driver was what inspired Simon to write the screenplay of The Full Monty in the first place.
He visited the city as a budding film-maker when his girlfriend broke her back climbing and was laid up in hospital in Sheffield, just as Meadowhall was replacing steelworks following the Thatcher government’s devastation of the industry in the 1980s.
He said: “I had nothing to do and didn’t know the place very well, although I’d been climbing in Stanage and round the Edges. I just wandered around and bumped into people who would just talk.
“I wasn’t used to men and strangers just talking. I found a lot of people in a very bad way who were very funny about it as a survival mechanism.
“The Full Monty is only as funny as it is because it is as sad as it is. It’s about real people, about what happens when you get thrown on the scrapheap.”
He wanted the script to reflect what those times were like. The idea of male strippers came from an Italian producer of the film, who was amazed that men would strip for a living, saying Italians would never do it.
Simon felt it showed how the shame and humiliation of losing their jobs and the desperation of failing to find other work pushed the men into such a crazy idea.
He said: “We premiered the film here after we showed it to one audience in the US. This was the first public outing.
“For 10 to 12 minutes there was absolute silence. Sweat was pouring off my face. I thought, ‘Oh my God, we’re going to get lynched. They think we’re somehow taking the rise out of them.”
He said that then the film got to the scene when the lads are trying to nick some steel and they’re in the middle of the canal and a man just walks past and says hello like everything’s normal.
“Everyone started laughing and at the end we got a standing ovation. They realised we knew this is what it’s like to be unemployed. Everyone’s knocking bits and pieces off to get a few bob.
“The people who were watching were quite rightly the toughest audience. That’s why everyone’s working as hard as they are. This is the audience we want to love it.”
The Oscar-winning screenwriter, who is from Keighley in West Yorkshire, has had lots of film hits including Slumdog Millionaire, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen and Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, but this is his first attempt at adapting his work for the stage.
He is really enjoying the experience and said: “I’m very involved in a way that writers in films are not so much. It’s very refreshing and a little bit scary.
“I’ve made off-the-cuff comments and then they’ll say they’ve removed all the windows in the set that I didn’t like. I thought it was just a point for discussion!”
He added: “I rather arrogantly and naively thought how difficult can it be to write a play? It’s really different. I should have known because I’ve adapted books into films at times. The screenplay is hugely different from the book. Hopefully people don’t notice a thing. They recognise the book in a film but it’s actually completely different.
“I’ve had a crash course in whole new craft skills. It’s been interesting and frustrating. When I sent it off to a publisher, I noticed it was draft 13, It’s been a long road.”
He said that one turning point was watching the excellent production of My Fair Lady at the Crucible, which Daniel Evans directed. He also directs The Full Monty.
He said: “It was brilliant. I went and looked at my script again. The atmosphere in rehearsals just slightly changed. People started thinking ‘I’d better up my game a bit’.”
The Full Monty is at the Crucible from February 2 to 23.