Simon Beaufoy: Why new play is much more than Monty’s double

Oscar-winning screenwriter Simon Beaufoy is turning his first movie into a stage play – the first time he’s written for theatre. Arts correspondent Nick Ahad met him in Sheffield.

Simon Beaufoy and a scene from the hit movie, The Full Monty, below.
Simon Beaufoy and a scene from the hit movie, The Full Monty, below.

His films have won Oscars, have been seen by millions – and made millions – around the world.

Yet Simon Beaufoy is incredibly nervous about his latest piece of writing.

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Why? Because it’s a return to his first love and the story that is dearest to his heart.

“What first got me into the performing arts was theatre,” say Beaufoy, unequivocal.

“Going to the theatre with my mum and dad and seeing the lights go down and the curtains go up was one of the most thrilling things of my childhood, so it was theatre that got me into all this.” This, of course, being the Oxford graduate’s life as a multiple award-winning writer.

“When I was at university I directed a lot of plays – I honestly don’t know what got me into films. In theatres even now it’s an amazing moment for me when the lights go down. When I first saw something in the theatre, I thought ‘I want to do that’, whatever ‘that’ was.”

When he’s pushed on it, Beaufoy admits he does know what turn of events ended with him making a living in the world of film rather than theatre.

“The Full Monty worked pretty well, so I guess that’s what got me into films.”

Master of the understatement, Beaufoy.

The Full Monty really did work “pretty well” – and then some. It won the BAFTA for Best Film in 1997, was nominated for four Oscars and earned an estimated £170m at the box office worldwide. A lengthy series of unfortunate events meant Beaufoy saw very little of 
this money – he has always been quite candid about the fact that while the movie brought him critical acclaim, 
a swollen bank balance, it 
did not.

The fact that Beaufoy naively gave up the rights to the film when he first wrote it gave rise, in a roundabout way, to the project he is currently charged with – turning the hit movie into a stage play.

Producer David Pugh, a legend in theatre circles, really, really wanted to put the movie on stage.

“Once a year, David would ring my agent and ask me to go for lunch. I would just keep telling him that it was pointless – I’m a screenwriter, he’s a theatre producer and if he wanted to get the rights to the film it was no use seeing me because I just didn’t own any of it. The studio owned all the rights,” says Beaufoy.

“Then one day he called and said he had bought the rights.”

All the pieces had suddenly fallen into place. The Full Monty still held a very special place in Beaufoy’s heart, a theatre producer had the power to put the play on and most importantly, Beaufoy wanted to write it.

Only, it wasn’t exactly plain sailing. Beaufoy assumed, fairly, that as he was an Oscar-winning writer, and the original story being adapted for the stage was one he 
had dreamt up in the first place, it would be a piece 
of cake.

“When theatre’s good, it’s the best thing in the world and when it’s not, it’s awful and unforgiving – you can’t just cut away from a scene,” says Beaufoy.

“I thought I knew about the craft of writing drama, but I actually went through a massive learning curve. I had to go right back to the drawing board. When I delivered my first disaster draft to David, he sat me down and, over two days, very gently and very tactfully exploded everything I thought I knew. He taught me how to write a play.”

That’s right. Oscar, schmoscar, when The Full Monty stage play premieres at Sheffield Lyceum next week it will be the first time Beaufoy has written work for the stage and he’s humble enough to admit that he will be as nervous as any debutante.

“I’m terrified. My Oscar counts for nothing – it’s a film award, this is theatre,” he says.

When we meet the stage version of The Full Monty is in the early stage of rehearsals and Beaufoy is pondering on the success of the story and why this is the perfect time for it to be making an appearance. Daniel Evans, artistic director at Sheffield Theatres, is at the helm of the production as director and Beaufoy says that when he applied for the job to run the theatre in Sheffield, Evans said it was an ambition to bring this story to the stage.

“The premiere of the film was in Sheffield and this was always going to be done here first.

“It’s a funny piece of work really, it sticks in the mind for people as a comedy that’s sort of ‘wahey, Friday night strippers’, because of the way the story ends, but it’s actually about a group of people who have had their humanity stripped away from them, have been humiliated and are winning back their self respect.

“This was a golden opportunity to do the story. It felt like exactly the right time. We’re in a deep recession again, just as we were when I first had the idea for the film and was in Sheffield, surrounded by people who are seeing the end of something.”

This is all well and good, but why tell the story again? The film exists, isn’t that enough? Beaufoy wrote the film script – his second after leaving Bournemouth Film School – when his girlfriend was recovering from a climbing accident in hospital in Sheffield. In between visiting hours the Keighley native found himself in Sheffield’s pubs and getting to know the other patients in the hospital. Their spirit and ability to still make jokes in the sometimes darkest of situations, inspired him.

“It’s the film I’ve made that I am most fond of,” says Beaufoy, who also wrote the multiple-Oscar winning Slumdog Millionaire and the James Franco vehicle 127 Hours.

“I love it because of the characters, because of the city and because it’s about the people I met when I was in Sheffield in the late eighties, who were some of the warmest and kindest people I have ever come across.

“I have worked harder on making this work on stage than anything. Without it I wouldn’t be a film maker or a playwright or anything.”

From Keighley to Hollywood

Simon Beaufoy was born and raised in Keighley.

He attended Ermysted’s Grammar School in Skipton, before reading English at Oxford. After studying film making at Bournemouth University, he began making documentaries, but moved into drama.

His first produced film script, in 1997, was The Full Monty which was nominated for several awards. He went on to write a number of other British films, before winning an Oscar for the Danny Boyle-directed Slumdog Millionaire in 2009. He went on to work with Boyle again on 127 hours.

The Full Monty, Sheffield Lyceum, to Feb 23. 0114 2496000,