Review: Brassed Off draws poignant parallel between past and present

Band leader Danny (John McArdle) in Brassed Off. Photographs: York Theatre Royal
19 Feb 2014 @ 8.25 pm
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Band leader Danny (John McArdle) in Brassed Off. Photographs: York Theatre Royal
Band leader Danny (John McArdle) in Brassed Off. Photographs: York Theatre Royal

Review: Brassed Off
Venue: York Theatre Royal, February 18

York Theatre Royal’s new production of Brassed Off, based on the 1996 film of the same name, evoked some strong memories in me; I saw it on video during my first year of university and of growing up in the former mining town of Selby.

Paul Allen’s adaptation of Mark Herman’s original script kept the pathos and emotion from the film, while making necessary tweaks here and here to make it suitable for the stage.

For those who might have missed it, Brassed Off tells the story of the fictional Grimley Colliery Band (based on the real life Colliery Band from Grimethorpe) fighting to stay relevant as the mine around them is threatened with closure, which would leave the entire town devastated.

It focuses on Phil (Andrew Dunn) who is struggling to pay his bills, keep his wife/ job/ family and play in the brass band.

Phil’s father Danny (John McArdle, of Brookside fame) thinks if he can keep the band alive then it will be worth it. At the same time young miner Andy (James Robinson) rekindles his first love with Gloria (Clara Darcy), an old school flame, just returned to Grimley to work for “management”.

Smiling through… Phil, played by Andrew Dunn
Smiling through… Phil, played by Andrew Dunn
The brass band take centre stage
The brass band take centre stage

The set design and lighting work very efficiently to give us several very different locations, while the non-brass sections of the music place us very firmly in the plays 1994 setting.

The actual brass band music (although unsurprisingly not my genre of choice) was thoroughly excellent, played by actual musicians live on stage.

I couldn’t tell who was a “real musician” and who was an actor, pretending to play, if indeed they were pretending. They certainly looked the part.

The cast were excellent. Special praise has to go to Helen Kay and Rebecca Clay as Sandra and Rita, the wives of our band members.

These could have been thankless one-note roles, but in their hands were responsible for the more poignant moments, especially in the second half.

Soon I stopped comparing the play to the film, which is a huge compliment to all involved. This production broke away from its source material to stand as a unique viewing experience.

I found myself welling up a couple of times, as the play reached its inevitable conclusion.

Even the casual viewer can’t fail to notice the parallels between todays “broken Britain” and the South Yorkshire of the mid Nineties.

The comedy is light, but consistent, meaning what could have been overbearingly bleak is broken up by genuinely funny moments, including one of my favourite lines from any film:

In short, a cracking adaptation, funny, sweet, heart-breaking. Don’t miss it!