Writer/Director: Kay Mellor
In 1995, Band of Gold burst on to our TV screens as a controversial, cutting-edge must-see show that pulled in 15 million viewers and became a popular conversation topic overnight. Twenty five years later and original writer Kay Mellor has decided to revisit her most famous work, retooling it for the stage. And while it may not be as shocking to modern audiences as it was back then, it’s thought provoking themes still resonate today and are ever relevant.
Centred around a group of sex workers in Bradford, the play initially focuses on Gina (Sacha Parkinson) whose desperation for money following a split from her abusive husband forces her into the hands of an unscrupulous loan shark. With the absence of a financial solution to her hopeless situation she turns to prostitution as a means to provide for her child. Advice and tutorage is offered by the kind-hearted Carol (Emma Osman) and outwardly-prickly Rose (Gaynor Faye). Also part of the action is Laurie Brett’s Anita who provides somewhere for her friends to ply their trade in in the form of a flat funded by sugar-daddy George (Mark Sheals).
Parkinson brings depth and realism to her portrayal of the desperate but determined Gina. This brings a real emotional weight to the early scenes. East Enders’ Brett is superb as the delusional Anita and Emmerdale’s Faye is equally impressive as the maternal but feisty Rose – both of them proving that being a soap star and a talented theatre actor aren’t mutually exclusive. Less convincing are Hollyoaks’ Keiron Richardson and Coronation Street’s Shayne Ward. Relative newcomer Osman shines in the central role of Carol and although more facial expression would greater enhance her dramatic scenes, she displays good comic timing and successfully elicits both laughter and sympathy from the audience. However the biggest standout in the cast is Olwen May as Gina’s mother Joyce – single-handedly stopping the show with a heart-breaking scene in the second act.
The play feels a little disjointed and seems to attempt to condense multiple episodes of TV into a cohesive two hour piece of theatre. This creates a lack of fluidity and some production flaws begin to creep in. As someone who has mainly worked in television, Mellor’s adaption sometimes feels a little too unwieldy for the stage. There are a lot of short scenes followed by some large scene changes that bounce between a handful of settings, almost all of which are made up of numerous pieces of furniture. Despite some nicely effective sliding panels in the main design of the set, these cumbersome scene changes unfortunately provide a distraction which impede the flow of the piece. Localised lighting on each small room setting may have solved this feeling of interruption
However Janet Bird’s fascinating set brilliantly captures ‘the Lane’ vibe and the use of figured gauzes together with Jason Taylor’s atmospheric lighting and bleed effects are innovative and emotion provoking. Yvonne Milnes’ costumes capture the era well and highlight the transition from the characters’ everyday existence to the seedy life of the night.
Band of Gold may not be quite perfect but the quality and range of the female actors and the talent within the supporting players greatly elevates the piece and provides enough laughter and drama to make it an entertaining night out. A nice trip down memory lane for the fans and followers of the hit TV show, and the chance to remember the big hair and the great tunes of the 80’s.
Runs until 1st February 2020