By Laura Heuston
I personally haven’t attended a striptease, but I imagine that the titelated air that filled this theatre before the curtain opened is of a similar nature. Women of all ages filled the seats, giggling and cheering in anticipation- it was clear what they were here for. And they received it immediately, as Buddy (Sam Harmon) emerged to treat us to a delightful show of abs and athleticism, of course donned in a firefighter costume.
We then get to meet the main men of the production, steel workers who are out of a job and frustrated with their unions lack of action. Jerry and Dave (Peter Meredith and Luke Lamond) are down on their luck but too good for the “women’s work” of cashiering etc, and so in a tight spot with regard to money. This plays into their insecurities with regard to their masculinity, prompting them to sneak into the men’s bathrooms of a striptease performance in order to investigate what their wives see in these shows. And so, the seed of a “straight” (spoilers, they’re absolutely not all straight) striptease show is planted. Because apparently, straight equals sexy.
The performances in the show are utterly fantastic. The strength of this cast’s vocals is superb, and their harmony work is seamless. Peter Meredith delivers an absolutely mammoth achievement with his performance as Jerry, playing the deeply insecure but ultimately loving father wonderfully, especially given some of the more dislikable aspects of this character. I am not sure that any performance could enable me to like this man, however Meredith does make him relatable. One must remember that this is a depiction of straight, working class white men who are convinced that certain kinds of work are too feminine for them, so homophobia does fit the mould. However, saying “good for them” when he discovers two of his male friends are in a relationship is not nearly enough of a character arc away from bigotry after attacking a gay man in the second scene. I spent a lot of the show hoping that the insecurity he would overcome would be the alarming fragility of his heterosexuality, and potentially even get to know a gay person as that, a person. Unfortunately this does not occur in any kind of meaningful way, but I have to applaud the work of Meredith for truly selling the connection and care he had for his son Nathan (Cian Dowd).
Nathan and Jeanette (Julianne Horne) are the secondary characters that become the stars due to their exceptional performances. Horne is utterly hilarious, delivering gut-busting jokes with every second line, and Dowd presents Nathan as a young person growing into a man more accepting than his father, and rolling in generosity, even if he is still a typical teenager. At fourteen years old, he is already a wonderful actor and I look forward to seeing where he goes from here. They, Malcolm (Guy Webster) and Ethan (Charlie Hollands) act as the genuinely accepting people that serve as role models for the hypermasculine characters, which is acknowledged to a point by Jerry and Dave. Webster also must be congratulated for his gorgeous rendition of “Walk With Me”, which managed to be moving despite us seeing very little of the relationship between he and his mother.
There is no question that this musical makes for a wonderful night out. The laughs are constant and the performances brilliant. I must also congratulate director Adam Haynes and set designer Josh Stringer for the smooth integration of the set pieces throughout. However there is no getting away from the fact that there are a significant amount of racist, sexist, and homophobic jokes here. We don’t need to ask if the African American character has a gun in his pocket, and we don’t need to objectify women and then point out that they can objectify men back- we can just encourage everyone to get over other people having human bodies. I’m extremely on the fence about “You’ve Got a Friend”, where Jerry and Dave suggest ways that they can help Malcolm commit suicide- while on the surface it is horrific, it would seem that these men are genuinely bonding and being … kind? Straight male bonding does at times confuse me, so I’ll leave this song where it is. But in the end, if you can get past the problematic aspects of the script, you will be treated to a night of fantastic music, singing, dancing and dick jokes...Which it turns out, are still very funny.
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.