DEAFENING. The only word to describe the roar as the 1000 females attending The Full Monty at Sheffield’s Lyceum Theatre screamed and whooped as the cast revealed all. In a theatre that holds 1068, at this sold-out performance I was one of the severely out-numbered males in the audience. Or so it seemed.
It’s a scene that is likely to be repeated at the Festival Theatre next week, when a new stage adaptation of the 1997 movie about six out-of-work steel-workers who turn to stripping to boost their income, tours to the Capital.
Preparing to bare all alongside a cast that includes Coronation Street’s Craig Gazey and Kenny Doughty from Sky’s Stella, is Simon Rouse, best known to millions as DCI Jack Meadows in The Bill, a role he played for almost two decades. Not that the prospect of flashing his bits fazed the 61-year-old.
“The generation of actors that I come from . . . well, let’s just say that everybody was desperate to take their clothes off in the 70s and usually it was totally gratuitous and didn’t make any sense at all,” he laughs.
“When I started acting, if you weren’t naked in a play it wasn’t a very good play.
“This one is about a bunch of guys who become strippers, so it was obvious we would have to take our clothes off. It’s an intelligent part of the play and very, very funny.”
Thankfully, clever lighting allows Rouse and his fellow actors the opportunity to preserve their dignity in the infamous final scene.
“But we do flash our bums,” he warns.
Not to be confused with The Full Monty musical, this production is firmly anchored in the Britflick that took the world by storm back in the 90s, becoming one of the most successful British films of all time.
Rouse plays Gerald Cooper, the role played by Tom Wilkinson in the movie. A former manager at the local steel works, Gerald has been hiding the fact he’s been laid off from his wife. Used to a higher standard of living than the others, he finds being on the dole particularly galling.
“Gerald is a wonderful part and perfect for me because I understand him,” says the actor.
“I understand that working class aspiration. My dad was a junior school teacher and was an aspirational guy. So I understand that petty bourgeois longing people like Gerald have - my father had it.
“There’s definitely a little bit of him in Gerald. He was very into ‘talking properly’ and would say, ‘You don’t mix with those people, they’re very rough.’
“You know what I mean, a bit of a snob really. A lovely man, I did love him, but like a lot of that generation he was a Conservative with a small c.”
If Rouse could easily identify with the character, the dance routines Gerald has to teach the troupe didn’t come quite so instinctively. “I thought it would come very naturally because I grew up in the late 60s and early 70s when dancing was free-form - I thought I was brilliant,” he says, laughing.
“But, of course, when you’ve got no form, anybody can be brilliant. I actually found having to learn moves quite difficult. I was a lot slower than the other guys, even Craig was quicker than me and he’s quite slow. So, I’m bottom of the class for dancing but I’m really starting to dig it now.”
It’s all a lifetime away from his role in The Bill. As DCI Jack Meadows he became the public face of the long-running cop show, which was axed in 2010.
It was emotional when it came to an end, he recalls, but not for the reasons you might think.
“When it ended it was kind of emotional, but not because I was sad. I was absolutely thrilled. I can’t tell you how happy I was when it finished because I’d been there far too long,” he says candidly.
“There’s not an actor in the world who would choose to do the same job for 18 years, but like a lot of those jobs, they pay lots of money. You get paid so well you stay with it. By the time it finished I’d saved enough and the only thing keeping me there was greed. So I really was thrilled when it came to an end. I just thought, ‘I never want to do another long telly again.’ ”
Rouse has worked solidly in theatre ever since and it’s plain he couldn’t be happier.
“You get labelled as ‘that guy from The Bill,’ they don’t think of you as an actor, just ‘that guy who plays a policeman.’
“So it’s nice to be feeling like an actor again and doing different things,” he says.
The Full Monty, Festival Theatre, Nicolson Street, Monday-Saturday, 7.30pm (Wed & Sat matinees 2.30pm), £14.50-£29.50, 0131-529 6000