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Writer Simon Beaufoy brings The Full Monty to the stage

When The Full Monty film was released in 1997 there was a delicious irony that it did so a week after Tony Blair was elected UK Prime Minister with a landslide victory that saw his New Labour project end 18 years of Conservative rule.

Here, after all, was a commercial feature film about a group of former steel workers turned strippers in Sheffield who had been thrown on the scrapheap by Margaret Thatcher's destruction of their industry.

Fifteen years on, and with a Conservative/LibDem Coalition in Westminster, Simon Beaufoy's screenplay of The Full Monty has been adapted for the stage. As with the film, Beaufoy's first stage play has proved a feelgood hit even as it deals with dark subjects about masculinity and the by-products of losing one's livelihood during an era of mass unemployment.

"It's a recession comedy," Beaufoy says. "It was a really grim time, and it was visibly grim. The 1980s marked the end of heavy industry, so you'd literally see factories being flattened, and entire communities left out of work. There's something about that backdrop of an entire town being laid off that works for the play, and which wouldn't work if we updated it.

"This recession doesn't work as well dramatically because it is more isolated, and feels like it is hidden and more isolated. We're no longer remnants of the Victorian age, instead everyone is in their bedroom on the internet, applying for jobs and feeling miserable.

"I remember seeing the poster for the film saying it was a feelgood film, and I'd never thought of it like that, to be honest. It deals with suicide attempts, impotence and divorce, so there's very dark things going on, but the humour is a northern way of dealing with things, and everyone comes out on a big high. No-one's really doing anything risque, but there's a wave of excitement when they get their kit off that's not about titillation. It's about these men who've been so low being brave enough to do this thing."

The Full Monty was born from an idea Beaufoy had about making a documentary about a group of men painting electricity pylons across the Yorkshire moors. This morphed into a script about unemployed male strippers that tapped into a sense of optimism following the Thatcher years which were similarly challenged in films such as Billy Elliot and Brassed Off.

The runaway success of The Full Monty effectively kick-started Beaufoy's career, and has seen him pull off a similar feat of serious populism with his screenplay for Slumdog Millionaire. Beaufoy won an Oscar for the film, and went on to work with director Danny Boyle again on 127 Hours. With Beaufoy currently at work on a film that looks at the rivalry between runners Sebastian Coe and Steve Ovett in the run up to the 1980 Moscow Olympic Games, one detects a theme of sorts running through all of his work.

"It's about hope," Beaufoy says of The Full Monty. "We believe in the characters, because they're real. They're the absolute opposite of men with beautiful bodies, and that's what makes them so courageous. Over the years I've realised it's the end response when people come out of a cinema or a theatre that matters, and the more complex parts can be thought about later. With The Full Monty that final image is about the triumph of the human spirit when these men are at their lowest ebb, that's what people respond to."

The Full Monty, His Majesty's Theatre, Aberdeen, until tomorrow; Edinburgh Festival Theatre, Monday to March 30. Visit www.fullmontytheplay.com.

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