Simon’s secret to success that Hollywood doesn’t know

if screenwriters had a bible, William Goldman’s Adventures in the Screen Trade would be the one they would choose.

In it, the Oscar winning writer of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Marathon Man and All The President’s Men states that in the movie business: “Nobody knows anything.”

Simon Beaufoy agrees.

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Beaufoy, the owner of an Oscar himself (for Slumdog Millionaire) was in the audience at Sheffield Lyceum on Monday night. He might have a very nice little statue-shaped doorstop in his house for his work on the big screen, another Academy Award nomination for his The Full Monty screenplay, but when he sat in the audience, in the middle of row K, earlier this week, he was there as a novice.

It must be an odd sensation to be sitting in a theatre, watching your first play, and witnessing, at the thrilling denouement, more than 1,000 people leap to their feet to give your debut a standing ovation.

Beaufoy, speaking the day after the premiere, admits it was a bit of a strange moment.

“Believe it or not, Monday was quite a quiet night for the show,” says the unassuming screenwriter.“It has been absolutely extraordinary to be in the theatre, watching the audience – they are really engaged with it.

“We didn’t really know what to expect, but on the first few nights (the show was in preview before Monday’s official premiere) it was unbelievably rowdy. It was actually a little too much, we’ve had to try pull things back a little bit. The audience were so involved and laughing so loudly that the actors couldn’t move on with some of the scenes. They had to just stand there, waiting for the audience to calm down a bit.”

While in the theatre, as in the movies according to Goldman, there is no such thing as a sure thing, one has to admit that the stars were fairly well aligned for The Full Monty.

Written by Beaufoy when he was in Sheffield in the 1990s, the story features a group of men deciding to strip off to regain their self-respect. The 1997 movie resonated with the politics of the time and put the name of Steel City on a global stage, winning Beaufoy that Oscar nomination for what was only his second screenplay.

The story is undeniably feel-good, and the finale, when this donwtrodden band of redundant steel workers go the full monty and bare all, hits the heart of the audience like Robin Hood hitting bullseye.

It was never, however, guaranteed that the audience would rise as one to stamp, shout and clap their appreciation for a story transferring from screen to stage. Why no guarantee of success? There’s a simple answer: When Harry met Sally. The Nora Ephron movie is simply one of the best, smartest and most loved rom coms ever seen on screen and when it was turned into a stage version, it flopped and so became part of a recent tradition of unsuccessful transfers: Flashdance, Footloose, The Graduate.

“We honestly never knew if it would work or not,” says Beaufoy. “It’s only when you get it in front of an audience that you know.”

Beaufoy yesterday said that he was avoiding reading the reviews. If he was concerned about any negativity, he need not have worried – because all the national newspapers that reviewed the show were full of praise.

“Before Monday night’s show, we all sat down together and said that the really important thing was that the audience loved it,” says Beaufoy.

“The show has been sending people out into the street being incredibly ebullient and happy – that’s what really matters.”

So, what has he done? How has he cracked it in an industry where no-one knows anything?

“What’s been wonderful has been revisiting the story with 16 years of screenwriting experience under my belt,” he says. “I’ve come back to it with a few more skills than when I first wrote the piece and it’s also given me to take a look at some of the characters and flesh them out a bit more. But I think the key thing for me has been realising that it actually seems more like a stage play than a film. It has a very theatrical ending, but the whole way through I realised that it’s about these men trapped in their situation – so it made perfect sense to set everything in the abandoned steelworks.

“Once we did that I realised that it is more like a play than a film.”

Maybe that’s the secret. Beaufoy might have some news for Goldman.

The Full Monty is at Sheffield Lyceum to February 23.