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West End Star Kenny Doughty on Stripping Down in The Full Monty & Getting Felt Up at the Stage Door

West End Star Kenny Doughty on Stripping Down in The Full Monty & Getting Felt Up at the Stage Door
Kenny Doughty as Gaz in 'The Full Monty' Photo by Hugo Glendinning
'There we were in this quaint, beautiful city with this group of women at the stage door asking me to sign their cleavage.'

After four years in Los Angeles, Yorkshire-born TV and film actor Kenny Doughty is returning to his roots in The Full Monty in the West End. Not to be confused with the Americanized Broadway musical of the same title (which was a New York hit and a London flop), the new stage play by Simon Beaufoy sticks to the source material of his own Oscar-nominated script for the 1997 film. The play, about a group of unemployed British steelworkers who turn to stripping, is set to open February 25 at the Noel Coward Theatre. While preparing for the production’s first preview, the charming Doughty spoke to about film vs. TV, Britain vs. America, and appearing naked in front of his mother-in-law.

The Full Monty has brought you back home to Britain. How does that feel?
I’m back in the motherland and I’m finding that I really missed it! I’d gone out to L.A. to look after a friend’s flat and got my green card and stayed. Now my wife and I have a nice place in Santa Monica, which we love. But at the same time, it’s great to be playing the West End. I always imagined that my career would be in theater, so it’s nice to be doing some!

Yes, especially a project which must feel close to your heart.
It does. I’m from Barnsley, which is six miles from Sheffield, where both the film and this play are set. Long before I even knew I would be doing this play I had seen the film loads; there aren’t many films about South Yorkshire, so it’s almost part of my DNA.

You play Gaz, who dreams up the scheme that stripping might be the way to self-worth.
Yes, but what’s fascinating is that this almost feels like it was a play first. And although the plot is the same as the film, the characters do go on a slightly different journey. Simon [Beaufoy] has had the opportunity to extend and explore certain moments a bit more in-depth. Because The Full Monty was his first film and now this is his first play, Simon has been able to go back to the film with all the knowledge he has gained in the intervening 17 years as a writer.

Did you know about the Broadway musical?
I didn't, to be honest, but I was speaking about [the play] to some friends in L.A. and they said, "What? The Full Monty musical?" and I said, "Not at all!" That was set in Buffalo and I think for Simon this is about reclaiming the piece and making it his again. I think he always felt like it had to be set in Sheffield.

The play takes place in 1988—did you worry that its themes might have become dated in the decades since?
Just the opposite: with the recent austerity measures and recessions and the insidiousness of people losing their jobs, the timing seems unbelievably apt. What’s also become even more pronounced is the idea that no one has a job for life anymore, so any number of people are facing the sorts of identity crises faced by the guys in our play.

Has your on stage disrobing made for some, um, interesting experiences with the audience during your pre-West End tour?
[Laughs] At our first preview almost a year ago in Sheffield, we had no idea how the audience might react, and I think we were slightly like lambs to the wolves. The audience was so raucous that it was genuinely terrifying when we got out there. When we were in Dublin, they were stomping “get them off” at one point, but we just had to hold our ground!

What about afterwards at the stage door?
The weird thing there is that [audiences] may feel a little bit overfamiliar and try to have a little feel up your ass, but you just have to say, “I know you’ve seen me get my kit off, but I think we’ve been through that.” It was amazing when we were in [the cathedral town] Canterbury last year—there we were in this quaint, beautiful city with this group of women at the stage door asking me to sign their cleavage.

Your real-life wife, Caroline Carver, plays your ex-wife in this: Did the two of you come as a package deal?
No, and in fact our producer at first wasn’t sure about having a real-life married couple. He didn't know if that would work. But Caroline is a phenomenally successful actress so we both said, “You make the decision based on Caroline and her alone.” And she got the job! Of course it’s lovely for me, because we bring to it our own natural history.

You’ve appeared on screen in Crush and Titus, but you are coming belatedly to theater. Does that surprise you?
It does, you know, since I always imagined when I left drama school [London’s Guildhall] that I would only do theater and instead I ended up doing TV and film and am only now appearing on a mainstage in London. I had actually been thinking recently that I might have missed my opportunity to be in the West End, so I’m delighted to see that isn’t true.

Much less in a show where you’ll be baring in all in front of your mother-in-law.
Tell me about it! She’s from Manchester, so she brought a coachload of girls to come from work and that was strange: there’s my wife’s mum whooping and cheering me getting naked.

And now she’s coming again in London?
Yes, this time with my own mother: The two mums together! What would Freud do with this bit of information?

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