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Brassed Off – Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton

Writer: Paul Allen from the screenplay by Mark Herman
Director: Gareth Tudor Price
Reviewer: Selwyn Knight

1994. Ten years after the miners’ strike and life in the Lancashire mining village of Grimley is still, well, grim. The future of the pit is in the balance – its miners will vote on whether to accept a redundancy payout or send the pit to ‘review’ to determine if it has a future or not. Pits around Grimley are already voting for jam today and closure.

The Ormondroyd family has a proud tradition of service in the pit. Phil was a stalwart of the strike, even serving time behind bars. Even though money is now coming into the house, he is struggling to provide for his wife, Sandra, his four children and the loan sharks who regularly come calling. Now retired, Phil’s father Danny continues to lead the brass band, still dreaming of competition glory. He sees the band as above politics; as a unifying force in the area.

Now throw the return of Gloria Mullins for work reasons into the mix. She arrives in the band rehearsal room with a flugelhorn after years away. She proves her worth as a player and is initially welcomed, rekindling a childhood romance with chancer Andy.

But why has she returned now and why does her briefcase carry the British Coal logo? Can Danny – whose health is not what it was – maintain a sense of community and lead the band to glory? And can Phil sort out his priorities, keep his head above water and save his marriage?

Based on the 1996 film of the same name, Brassed Off is a good choice for the Grand Theatre’s first foray into theatre production for many years. The film, including the powerful speech given by Pete Postlethwaite’s Danny after the band’s pyrrhic victory at the Albert Hall, is remembered fondly and this adaptation successfully recreates the tensions and despair felt in the community and within families while retaining comedic elements as we see band members in thrall to Danny as well as the developing romance between Andy (Eddy Massarella) and Gloria (Clara Darcy).

Jeffrey Holland, perhaps best remembered as the apprentice comic, Spike, in TV’s Hi-de-Hi, steps into Postlethwaite’s shoes as Danny. He brings his passion for musical success to life as well as Danny’s struggle against miners’ lung. And his rendition of that speech is stirring. However, he doesn’t quite dominate the stage and the band enough, so that the fears of the comedic duo, Harry and Jim (Tim Jones and Greg Yates), as they try (and fail) to pluck up the courage to tell Danny they need to save money and leave the band aren’t quite realised.

Christopher Connel turns in a fine performance of the conflicted Phil, spiralling into despair as he tries to support everyone even as his life falls apart around him. He is well supported by Miriam Grace Edwards as Sandra living a life of quiet desperation trying to keep all the balls in the air and feed the family despite Phil’s apparent fecklessness. Ash Matthews is the eight-year-old Shane, who also doubles as narrator, bringing a refreshing cheekiness to his performance. Darcy paints a picture of a similarly conflicted Gloria, showing her progression and true colours well. Her character gels well with Massarella’s convincing Andy.

The professional cast is supported by the local City of Wolverhampton Brass Band for the musical pieces, and a decent job they do, too, filling the Grand with music.

If Brassed Off has a failing, it’s that it tries to do too much: is it a politic polemic against the way miners and the industry were treated in the 1980s and 1990s, a gentle romantic comedy where love overcomes the odds or maybe a study of how communities fare and try to come together under trying circumstances? Can it do justice to all the interweaved stories? Despite the fine individual performances, the understated direction does mean that this production lacks some depth and progression so that some of the scenes with the most potential for emotional impact don’t quite deliver.

Nevertheless, this is a feelgood evening in the company of characters with whom we can sympathise and we certainly leave the theatre in positive mood – the Grand is to be commended for this foray into production.

Runs until 2 September 2017 | Image: Graeme Braidwood

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The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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