Brassed Off is a play, adapted by Paul Allen, from the original screenplay by Mark Herman of the same title. Director, Damian Cruden employs all that is familiar from the 1996 film and the performances are exceptional.
The play is based on the true life experiences of the people of Grimethorpe (a mining village in Northern England). It is 1993, and the pit workers in this tale; wives and families too, have been on the road to wrack and ruin since the miner’s strike of 1984-85. They are now preparing themselves for the impending closure of their colliery and are some way in to acknowledging the end of a ‘way of life’ for their shared community.
A beacon that shines for the miners is the hope (as members of Grimley Colliery Band) of making it through the preliminary stages of a National Competition. Doing well will mean casting off the constraints of life for a short time, as the possibility of playing at The Royal Albert Hall in the brass band finals beckons.
Never are stories, within a story, so pronounced as they are here. The writing explores the importance of The Union, the Social Club, and, of course, the Band, but we also get a measured insight into each key character and how hardship has changed them, and how circumstances that are unfolding are affecting.
Character portrayals are tight. The once fun loving Sandra is fragile. The young miner, Andy Barrow is impressionable and lacks drive. The well meaning, Gloria is hoodwinked by her employers. Phil is the foolhardy husband, loving father and loyal son and he is vulnerable and tragic too… he, and band leader, Danny, deliver the most heart wrenching lines and appear in the more memorable scenes. We also have Shane who knits together the narrative nicely. Now throw in the sarcastic humour of pit men Jim and Harry and their picketing wives Vera and Rita to the mix and we have a great show!
Plays like this, and The Pitman Painters and Billy Elliot too, presents us with a working class world and highlights the stuffy attitudes toward people coming from this kind of background trying to access The Arts in some shape or form. In this case the art form is music. And the live band performances are essential to the storytelling in this case. The songs are so fitting including the rousing Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez and Danny Boy. The vibrations of the brass instruments playing certainly stirs the emotions. Thank you Coventry Festival Band for your spirit lifting verberations in the Belgrade run, and to Clara Darcy (Gloria) for the stunning solo. Blasts of popular songs of the time are an enjoyable and surprising addition; and role play opportunity is also presented to young children.
The audience were up on their feet at the end applauding. In Coventry until 26 April 2014.
Sandra – Rebecca Clay
Andy – James Robinson
Phil – Andrew Dunn
Danny – John McCardle
Shane – Luke Adamson
Gloria – Clara Darcy
Baliff/Ensemble – Alistair Hoyle
Rita – Helen Kay
Nurse/woman on the picket line/acting assistant stage manager – Beth Organ
Harry – Andrew Roberts-Palmer
Jim – Kraig Thornber
Vera – Gilly Tompkins
Nurse – Emma Trugman
Female Announcer – Meryl Schofield
Male Announcer – John Banks
Reviewer Debra Hall attended the Brassed Off press night at The Belgrade Theatre, Coventry on Wednesday 23rd April, 2004 – on behalf of tssreviews.com
Photography by Nobby Clark