Writer/Director: Kay Mellor
Band of Gold is more than a 90s nostalgia kick as its brutal story uncovers a forgotten and vulnerable, underclass of society that remains hidden.
Tales from the red-light district are rarely placed on screen, let alone portrayed on stage, but Kay Mellor’s 1995 TV series has proven popular enough to be dusted off and revamped for a live audience. With the original show writer and Fat Friends creator overseeing its transition onto the stage, the production manages to stuff its first, 6-part season into a 2-hour staged thriller.
Following four working poor women of Bradford, the production plays through the daily lives of Rose (Gaynor Faye), Anita (Laurie Brett) and Carol (Emma Osman), which are filled with threats of loan sharks, corrupt coppers, and vengeful exes. As a single mother, Gina (Sacha Parkinson) struggles to keep a roof over her head flogging Avon cosmetics; she turns to self-employed streetworker, Carol for support with a plan to turn tricks and pay off her expanding debts. However, rather than showcase the life of luxury headed by the red-light district, director Mellor flickers between Bradford’s streets, the local pub, and the women’s sofas, for a spiraling tale of tragedy.
The comical whodunnit is comprised of a who’s who of soap stars, with the celebrity casting formed solely for its stage production. Nevertheless, the women have a believable comradery, banding together to reflect both the emotional cost and the sense of humour needed to carry out their dueling lives. For the generation that grew up with the crime drama, its northern humour and honest characters stack up to the series, but as the stage show is forced to fast forward through character developments, it may leave newcomers feeling detached due to its jolting direction.
Despite keeping the characters grounded between their school runs and baby daddy dramas, Mellor’s direction brings an abstract open world, that places grungy sliding walls and square light panels onto the stage. While its TV’s series injects mysterious men leering in cars, out of bushes and into windows, the stage environment removes some of the suspense by continuously blacking out its stage to reframe and reset the production. The show’s use of limited sound effects keeps the atmosphere eerie, but its broadcasting and time pressures leaves too many mysteries unsolved.
Band of Gold is not a graphic murder mystery. With an empathetic look into the world of sex work, Mellor’s story breaks down some of the assumptions of the women entering the business by pulling focus on their ordinary lives. This retro TV is worth a repeat as its feisty leads rehash the importance of compassion and community, banding together to create their own in the face of desperation. Balancing the comedy and reality for a raw and relatable story, the characters continue to resonate with audiences, and the result makes for an entertaining and uplifting production.
Runs until 25 January 2019 and continues on tour