‘The Full Monty will make you feel part of a community again. Who doesn’t want to experience that’ on 25th anniversary tour?

Six pack; Jake Quickenden, left, Ben Onwukwe, Neil Hurst, Danny Hatchard, Bill Ward and Nicholas Prasad in The Full Monty. Picture: Ellie Kurttz

MARKING the 25th anniversary of Peter Cattaneo’s Sheffield film, The Full Monty is stripped for stage action in a national tour of Simon Beaufoy’s spin-off play that arrives in York tomorrow.

As the group of lads on the scrapheap tries to regain dignity and pride, the story of downs, more downs and ups, defiant humour and heartbreak will resonate anew amid the cost-of-living crisis.

Leaving their hat on at the Grand Opera House this week will be Danny Hatchard’s Gaz, Jake Quickenden’s Guy, Bill Ward’s Gerald, Neil Hurst’s Dave, Ben Onwukwe’s Horse and Nicholas Prasad’s Lomper.

Completing the cast will be Oliver Joseph Brooke; Katy Dean; Laura Matthews; Badapple Theatre favourite Danny Mellor; Adam Porter Smith; Suzanne Procter; Alice Schofield and Leyon Stolz-Hunter. The young actors sharing the role of Nathan on tour will be Cass Dempsey, Theo Hills, Rowan Poulton and Jack Wisniewski.

Directed by Michael Gyngell, The Full Monty tour marks the first co-production and partnership between the Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham and Buxton Opera House.

Choreography and intimacy direction is by Ian West; set and costume design by Jasmine Swan; lighting design by Andrew Exeter and sound design by Chris Whybrow.

Making plans: A scene from The Full Monty as the lads audition Horse, right, for their strip act. Picture: Ellie Kurttz

Here, television stars Danny Hatchard (from EastEnders and Not Going Out), Jake Quickenden (Dancing On Ice winner and I’m A Celebrity…Get Me Out Of Here! runner up) and Bill Ward (from Emmerdale and Coronation Street) discuss the joy of taking to the stage in this autumn’s 25th anniversary touring production.

The Full Monty is experiencing a resurgence, first in the Disney+ TV series and now this tour show. Why has stood it stood the test of time?

Danny: “Is there a more iconic working-class comedy than The Full Monty? I’d argue not. Especially one that covers so many incredibly important topics that are still very relevant today. Fathers’ rights, depression, suicide, impotence, homosexuality, unemployment, body image.

“Tackling important subjects like these whilst adding a sprinkle of nostalgia and a dash of humour takes the audience on a two -hour emotional rollercoaster filled with tears and belly laughter. This show is not only a cocktail of excellence, but also hugely relatable to both men and women.”

Jake: “It’s a story for everyone and it has everything – love, humour, sensitive subjects, the lot. So many people can relate to the characters. They draw on relationships that affect everyone: ex-wife; ex-wife’s new husband; kid that lives with mum; lads; being skint, the list goes on and on.

“It means that’s everyone who watches it can feel like it’s speaking to them, and then of course, there is the brilliant humour, the dancing and everything that goes with it!”

Bill: “Because at its core it revolves around a number of universal, timeless themes: male brotherhood, love, overcoming loss and adversity, and ingenious solutions to universal recognisable problems. This is essentially about six men who’ve lost not only their jobs, but their sense of identity and their dignity too, and what they’re prepared to do to get them back.”

Hitting their stride: Bill Ward’s Gerald, left, Danny Hatchard’s Gaz, Neil Hurst’s Dave, Nicholas Prasad’s Lomper and understudy Leyon Stolz Hunter’s Horse invest their all in the strip routine finale from The Full Monty. Picture: Ellie Kurttz

The Full Monty is a comedy but one that explores tough issues around male body image and mental health too. In which ways are these themes relevant today?

Danny: “They’re almost indistinguishable. If anything, times are harder now on men (and women) than they ever have been, especially regarding body image and mental health. Social media being the main driving force of that. Every day people post their idea of ‘perfection’ all over the internet, and naturally we compare.

“I’d say The Full Monty is just as important now as it was 25 years ago. There used to be more of a sense of community and care for one another, and I feel social media is pushing us further and further away from our natural way of communicating. The Full Monty will make you feel part of a community again. Who doesn’t want to experience that?”

Jake: A lot of people ask this [question] and do you know, I think The Full Monty led the way with a lot of these conversations. It was ’97 when then film came out, men didn’t really share their issues with each other, and it was still pretty taboo to be open about mental health and being gay.

“This story reminds us of lots of things that are more accepted today but still very important: talk to people if you are feeling down – there is always another way out other than suicide.

“Being yourself in the world is nothing to be ashamed of. Your body is the only one you have; love it no matter how it looks; everyone likes something different. Just because you are old doesn’t mean you can’t do something…there are just so many messages in here for everyone.”

Bill: “There are so many things in this play that resonate today. Simon Beaufoy, the writer, came to see us during rehearsals, and he was very clear it wasn’t a comedy at all. ‘A play with jokes’, is how he described it.

“It is of course very funny indeed, but the comedy actually comes from the very real tragedy that all these characters are facing in their lives…different circumstances, different starting points, but real grief and tragedy nevertheless.”

Jake Quickenden now: Playing Guy in The Full Monty, on tour at the Grand Opera House, York from tomorrow. Picture: Ellie Kurttz

In keeping with the brotherhood between the men in the play, how well have you bonded with your fellow cast members?

Danny: “The casting team have done an incredible job. I love and respect every member of this cast very much. They say time flies when you’re having fun. Well, two hours feels like 20 minutes on stage with this lot. We’re all just a bunch of good mates having a wonderful time. Every scene feels effortless, and I trust them all implicitly.”

Jake: “I don’t want to sound clichéd but literally everyone is so close. Usually, you get little cliques grow but we genuinely all get on so well, and because a lot of the scenes include all of us, we just have a laugh and get closer and closer every day.

“Then there are all the memories we’re making as we tour the UK and all those different theatres, hotels, lunch breaks end up building to create this huge happy family. Plus, we are all hilarious, which helps!”

Bill: “This is a wonderful cast and crew. Hugely talented and lovely too. We’re a very happy band of sisters and brothers.”

What do you hope this week’s audiences will take away from seeing this production?

Danny: “Pure unadulterated happiness.”

Jake: “The main thing is: be yourself, never give up, never listen to what anyone thinks and just do you! The story is sad at times, but every character overcomes their worries in some way and ends with success! It’s a feel-good show, which keeps people laughing even when they are crying.”

Bill: “This is a very beautiful, heartwarming and at times very moving story. It’s also very, very funny indeed and an absolute riot at the end. A properly banging night out at the theatre.”

Jake Quickenden then: Striking a pose in hot pants in his role as cowboy Willard Hewitt in Footloose The Musical at York Theatre Royal last year

Did you know?

JAKE Quickenden last appeared on a York stage as hunky cowboy Willard Hewitt, stripping to his golden pants in Footloose The Musical at the Theatre Royal in April 2022.

BILL Ward’s last appearance on a York stage came during the Theatre Royal’s Haunted Season, cast opposite fellow Coronation Street star Wendi Peters in Philip Meeks’s The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow in October 2021. He played not only village elder statesman Baltus Van Tassel, but also a naughty 90-year-old female cook, a hard-drinking coach driver and a crazy, delusional Dutch captain.

The Full Monty, Grand Opera House, York, Tuesday to Saturday, 7.30pm plus 2.30pm Wednesday and Saturday matinees. Box office: atgtickets.com/york. Also: Alhambra Theatre, Bradford, November 14 to 18, 7.30pm plus 2pm Wednesday and 2.30pm Saturday matinees; 01274 432000 or bradford-theatres.co.uk.

The men from Full Monty say yes to supporting York mental health charity Menfulness in fund-raising drive

The Full Monty cast with representatives from the York charity Menfulness in the foyer bar at the Grand Opera House, York

THE Full Monty cast has met up with the men’s mental health charity, Menfulness, ahead of the first night of this week’s run in York.

The Grand Opera House is supporting the York charity by collecting donations at bars and kiosks card payment points throughout the week to provide funds for urgent counselling for men at crisis point.

Menfulness is an inclusive social wellbeing group that supports and promotes improvements in men’s lives through activities and counselling. The group is “led by five blokes from York who, like most of us, have struggled with mental health and the pressures of life”.  

“Our goal is to bring men together to socialise, exercise, enjoy themselves, talk and let off steam in a non-judging, friendly and supportive environment,” says the charity. “These are all essential for wellbeing and health, both physical and mental.

“Menfulness is not only changing lives, it’s saving lives. And we aim to be the leaders of a cultural shift in which men can talk, where we don’t have to man up, where it’s OK not to be OK, and where support is plentiful, accessible and affordable.”

To find out more about the charity, head to: menfulness.org

REVIEW: Charles Hutchinson’s verdict on Footloose The Musical, York Theatre Royal ****

Hot pants! Jake Quickenden’s hunky cowboy Willard Hewitt strikes a pose in Footloose The Musical

THERE was a time when Racky Plews’s touring production of Footloose The Muscal would have played the Grand Opera House, not York Theatre Royal, as indeed it did in May 2017 with Bradford’s Gareth Gates’s cowboy Willard as the star attraction.

Just as the Mischief’s brand of comic mayhem with a team of accident-prone Charlie Chaplins has moved from Cumberland Street (The Play That Goes Wrong, September 2021) to St Leonard’s Place (Magic Goes Wrong, April 26 to May 1), Footloose’s transfer is a sign of chief executive Tom Bird balancing the Theatre Royal’s obligations as a producing house with the need for commercial prudence after the triplet of Covid lockdowns.

Sure enough, Plews’s new production – “reworked with a new set, new costumes, the lot,” as Darren Day, one of two new star names, put it – was playing to a full stalls and dress circle at Wednesday’s performance. Box-office business has been brisk, driven by the industry’s time-honoured key ticket purchaser: women, especially for musical theatre.

Bereft: Darren Day’s burdened Reverend Shaw Moore

Men, outnumbered as ever on Wednesday, nevertheless would have a fun time at this feelgood, then feelevenbetter show, delivered by Plews’s cast of actor-musicians with the pizzazz befitting Holding Out For A Hero, Let’s Hear It For The Boy and the title number.

Faithful to the 1984 teen movie, Footloose is the teen-rebel story of Ren McCormack (Joshua Hawkins), the high-school newcomer who has blown into Bible Belt Bomont from Chicago with mum Ethel (Geri Allen) after his father deserted them without explanation.

An innocent abroad, Ren is out of step with a stymied town that buckles the Bible belt on the tightest notch, the town council having banned dancing in the wake of four Bomont High pupils perishing in a drink-and-drug fuelled car accident.

Lucy Munden’s Ariel, right, with Oonagh Cox’s Rusty, Samantha Richards’s Urleen and Jess Barker’s Wendy-Jo

In contrast with that tragedy’s fun-negating shadow, Dean Pitchford, Walter Bobbie and Tom Snow’s musical does indeed cut loose, demanding an exuberant, high-energy performance from start to finish.

Footloose is light, insubstantial, even a little daft, being a dance-filled musical about not being allowed to dance, but let’s not split hairs. Last time it felt dated too, but deliberately and knowingly Eighties in style, and that look is still there in Sara Perks’s designs and costumes, but so are tattoos galore and ripped jeans, along with a state-of the-art lighting design by Chris Davey.

What’s more, there is just enough of a sting in the tale of stultifying life in the WASP smalltown of Bomont, where the music died five years ago in this quiet Deep American South backwater.

Giant leap: Joshua Hawkins’s Ren McCormack swaps Chicago for backwoods Bomont

Sunday’s earnest sermons by the anguished Reverend Shaw Moore (Darren Day) set the tone, having administered the dance ban after losing his son. Day, hair newly grey and goatee bearded, grey suit as buttoned up as Moore’s emotions, is the old hand among predominantly young players, and he brings gravitas to the heavyweight role.

He has one of the hit-filled show’s non-hits to navigate in Heaven Help Me, but does so, not once, but twice, with beautifully controlled singing, where less is Moore. Look out for his Elvis impersonation in Reverend Moore’s transitional moment: a lovely light touch.   

Moore’s counterpoint is Hawkins’s appealing Ren, the clean-living, accidental rebel who breaks every Bomont taboo, complicating matters further by falling for Ariel (Lucy Munden), the preacher man’s equally rebellious poetess daughter, setting him on a collision course with college bad-lad Chuck (Tom Mussell).

Cutting loose: Joshua Hawkins’ Ren and Lucy Munden’s Ariel

Those of a certain age were excited that Day – who was called theatre royalty on television the other day – would be in the cast. Gen Z were far more excited at the presence of 2018 Dancing On Ice winner Jake Quickenden in the comedy role of hunky cowboy Willard Hewitt, the lovably hapless town hick.

Boy, he delivers, being delightfully dim in failing to read the endless advances of Oonagh Cox’s spunky Rusty and revelling in stripping off to his toned, tattooed torso in Holding Out For A Hero (recalling his time in The Dreamboys revue).

As for his singing, Quickenden nails the comedy number, Mama Says (You Can’t Back Down), one of the high points of Matt Cole’s exuberant choreography.

Jack Quickenden’s cowboy Willard strips down in Footloose The Musical

Hawkins’s Ren, Munden’s Ariel, Mussell’s Chuck, Cox’s Rusty, Samantha Richards’s Urleen, Jess Barker’s Wendy-Jo and the multi role-playing Geri Allen bring plenty to the party (or non-party, as the Reverend would prefer it).

Indeed, let’s hear it for all the boys and girls, as they sing, dance, play instruments and skilfully walk the tightrope between the serious and the tongue in cheek in their performances. Let’s hear it for the drummer too, Bob Carr, ever-present up top at the back, making everything stick and click.

Footloose and fancy free this weekend? This show is just the ticket for you.

Footloose, York Theatre Royal, 7.30pm tonight; 2.30pm, 7.30pm, tomorrow. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Darren has a grey Day as he plays the fun-banning Reverend in Footloose The Musical

Grey hair, goatee beard: The new look for Darren Day as Reverend Moore in Footloose The Musical

DOYEN of the musicals Darren Day’s debut at York Theatre Royal is an act of faith: he is playing Reverend Shaw Moore in Footloose The Musical until Saturday.

“I really feel this is transitional role for me,” says Darren, who has 29 years in musicals behind him at the age of 53. “I had breakfast last Thursday with Robbie Williams’s dad, [pub and club cabaret comedian and singer] Pete Conway, who came to see the show in Stoke, and he was saying exactly that.

“I’ve let the grey come through in my hair and I’ve grown a goatee beard for the role. Funnily enough, I was told I was too young for such roles when I went to see the producers of Footloose and Chicago within about three months of each other 12 years ago.

“I was thinking, ‘I’d love to play Reverend Moore and lawyer Billy Flynn’, but both producers said ‘not yet’, and they’ve both been on my bucket list of roles I’ve desperately wanted to play ever since, and now I’ve got the opportunity to play them both in one year, it’s incredibly exciting for me.”

Chicago was a joy for Darren and now he is settling into Racky Plews’s touring production of Footloose, the show based on the 1984 film, the one with such hits as Holding Out For A Hero, Almost Paradise, Let’s Hear It For The Boy and the title track, wherein American teenage city boy Ren McCormack is forced to move from Chicago to the rural backwater of Bomont after his father deserts him.

Things go from bad to worse when Ren finds out that dancing and rock music are banned there, but taking matters into his own hands, he soon has all hell breaking loose and the whole town on its feet. 

I’m so happy to be playing the Reverend,” says Darren. “I’m 53 now, I’ve been doing musical theatre for 29 years, so I’d always be grateful to playing these iconic roles, but on the back of Covid closing down theatres, I’m even more grateful. Being offered two six-month contracts at 53, I walk into the theatre everyday feeling so lucky.”

He is not alone, he says: “There’s gratitude with all of us in the company, a new-found gratitude for being able to perform again. Having done six months of Chicago and a few weeks of Footloose, it feels like how it must felt after the war, when people had been deprived of socialising and live entertainment.

“On the first night of Chicago, when the band struck up, the cheer that went up was like nothing I’d heard before. There’s a different feel now to performances, a sense of magic coming from the audience, as not that long ago none of us knew when life would be going back to some form of normality.”

Darren believes Racky Plews’s Footloose show is particularly special. “Even if you have seen it before, you will want to see it again, and this new version will blow you away. It’s been reworked with a new set, new costumes. The lot,” he says.

The tour poster for Racky Plews’s touring production of Footloose The Musical featuring a new set, new costumes…and a new-look Darren Day

“Racky has brought an edgy and exciting new take on the show. She’s been working closely with the writer of the original movie and songs, Dean Pitchford, and his input into this new production has been invaluable.”

Darren can draw on his own experiences to play the Reverend, whose daughter, Ariel, wants to break away: “Having a teenage daughter myself in real life, I have a lot of ‘method’ experience I can call on. It’s tough letting your ‘little princess’ out into the big bad world!” he says.

“She’s 15, she’s going out with boys now and wants me to order things for her off the Pretty Little Thing website, where everything is too short, too tight!”

In Footloose, the Reverend’s son, Bobby, has died in a drink and drug-fuelled car accident, whereupon he bans dancing in Bomont. “It’s not an easy role playing the Reverend,” says Darren. “It’s almost like I have to play it over-seriously for it to work. It wouldn’t work if I didn’t commit to it, but even with rowdy crowds, the emotional moments seem to be paying off.”

He is taking to being the old hand in the company. “In this cast, I’m more like the grandad as they’re so young. That’s why it really is the transitional gig for me. I feel so flattered to be working with all these young people around me,” says Darren.

“I was called ‘theatre royalty’ on a TV interview recently and ‘stage veteran’ in a review, and when I hear things like that, without sounding old school, I think that in the last few months, certainly with the impact of Covid, there does seem to be quite a lot of change affecting people.

“Like, I went through changes in my personal life, but now I’m embracing being in the position of the one who passes on advice.”

Darren’s song in the spotlight is Heaven Help Me. “It could be the title of my autobiography!” he says. “It’s not one of the big songs in the show, and that’s a first for me, when even in Chicago I had Razzle Dazzle.

“I just have to play it the right way, getting the mood right and not looking to bring the house down. What I have to do is pull off the acting, and it seems to be working.”

An act of faith, indeed, for Darren’s Reverend.

Footloose gotta cut loose at York Theatre Royal until April 2; 7.30pm nightly; 2pm, Thursday; 2.30pm, Saturday. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Jake and Darren are so happy to have their day cutting loose in Footloose The Musical

One giant leap for…Jake Quickenden, playing cowboy Willard in Footloose The Musical

DANCING On Ice winner Jake Quickenden and doyen of the musicals Darren Day are heading for York Theatre Royal in Footloose The Musical next week.

The show is based on the 1984 film, the one with such hits as Holding Out For A Hero, Almost Paradise, Let’s Hear It For The Boy and the title track, wherein American teenage city boy Ren McCormack is forced to move from Chicago to the rural backwater of Bomont after his father deserts him.

Things go from bad to worse when Ren finds out that dancing and rock music are banned there, but taking matters into his own hands, he soon has all hell breaking loose and the whole town on its feet. 

In Racky Plews’s touring production for Selladoor Productions and Runaway Entertainment, I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here! contestant and Hollyoaks actor Quickenden plays lovable cowboy Willard Hewitt, while Day takes the role of Reverend Shaw Moore.

“I used to work as a bricklayer at the steelworks in Scunthorpe, where I was born, and Willard is a cowboy and a bit of a mechanic, so I can do the physical stuff,” says Jake, 33. “He’s fun to play; he’s quite stupid – I don’t have to get into character!

“It’s a fun, upbeat song-and-dance show, where everyone knows the words, and it’s all actor-musos, playing instruments, rather than just having a band.”

What’s your instrument? “I play the guitar on four or five songs. I’ve played the guitar for about nine years now, self-taught, starting when I was 23/24, doing it from YouTube,” says Jake, who also picked up Willard’s accent from watching a few TV shows and You Tube. “If I’m honest, I picked it up quite quickly when, as a northern lad, I normally don’t find accents that easy.”

Jake, who played the title role in Peter Pan at Blackpool Opera House, toured with The Dreamboys and starred in the 50th anniversary of Hair The Musical, is teaming up with Darren Day for the first time. 

“I’d never met him before. He’s an absolute pleasure to work with ; he’s been around the block doling musicals for three decade, and I’ve been picking up a lot from him. He’s such a humble guy,” he says. “It’s really important for the young people in the cast, straight out of performing arts schools, to have the chance to work with him.”

Darren, 53, says of his latest role: I’m so happy to be playing the Reverend. Over a decade ago, I met with the producers for Footloose and Chicago within about three months of each other. I was told I didn’t look old enough! So, the only downside of me playing these two roles back-to-back is that I must now look ‘old enough’.

O happy Day: Darren Day playing Reverend Moore in Footloose The Musical, as he ticks off one of his bucket list of roles he desperately wanted to do

“Since those meetings all those years ago, Billy Flynn and the Reverend have been on my bucket list of roles I desperately wanted to play, so to get the opportunity to play them both in one year is incredibly exciting for me and I feel deeply grateful.

“Having a teenage daughter myself in real life, I have a lot of ‘method’ experience to draw upon [for Reverend Moore]! It’s tough letting your ‘little princess’ out into the big bad world!”

Darren is revelling in being in Racky Plews’s touring show. “This production of Footloose is particularly special. Even if you have seen it before, you will want to see it again, and this new version will blow you away. It’s been reworked with a new set, new costumes. The lot,” he says.

“Racky has brought an edgy and exciting new take on the show. She’s been working closely with the writer of the original movie and songs, Dean Pitchford, and his input into this new production has been invaluable.”

Assessing what keeps Footloose both fresh and popular at the box office, Darren says:  “The great thing about Footloose, which I think separates it from other ‘jukebox’ shows, is that Dean Pitchford wrote the songs specifically for the movie. 

“So, not only are these songs instantly recognisable the second the intro begins, they also carry the plot forward in a very truthful way. Apologies for that sounding incredibly ‘arty’ and ‘theatrical’, but they do!

“In the show there are these massive hit tunes that everyone recognises, along with a strong and beautiful storyline. It’s a really feel-good show – no doubt about it.”

Meanwhile, Jake continues to enjoy taking on challenges, whether winning Dancing On Ice in 2018, heading to the Aussie jungle, doing musicals and pantomime or making his soap opera debut in Hollyoaks. “It was just a guest appearance in eight episodes, playing a character called Woody, and funnily enough he was a builder,” he says. Was he killed off? “No, he wasn’t! I’d love to go back.”

Now, Jake is riding out as cowboy Willard. “I love testing myself doing new things, giving everything a go once, and I’ve really loved doing musicals. Though I’ve done things where I might not do them again, like The Dreamboys [the male revue show]. I tried it, enjoyed it, but I’d like to move on. It didn’t push me to do what I want to do, but it’s good for keeping in shape!”

Footloose gotta cut loose at York Theatre Royal from March 29 to April 2 (not from March 28, as first announced). Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.