Writer: Paul Allen, adapted from the screenplay by Mark Herman
Musical Director: Nicholas Eastwood
Director: Damian Cruden
Reviewer: Dominic Corr
Politics and the arts have an unstable marriage where art usually reflects, parodies or comments upon the other. Striking similarities with productions ThePitmen Painters and Billy Elliot, Brassed Off completes a trifecta of miners being soothed from a political harpooning of their jobs by a form of cultural art. While the other two productions use painting or dance at the core of their narrative,Brassed Offadapted by Paul Allen, showcases the cultural importance of music through Grimethorpe Colliery Brass Band, to the mining community of the fictional Grimly. The relationship between a Conservative government, the mining industry and culture through art is showcased in this production: this combined with the talent, presence and costume of the brass band, meant that anticipation for the performance was tangible.
The story is driven forward by Luke Adamson’s portrayal of eight year old Shane and despite being an adult actor in an innnocent child’s rôle is convincing in his characterisation as the naturally curious boy. Ex-miner and conductor for the band Danny, played by John McArdle, symbolises the sense of community for Grimly and almost embodies the ideals of musical importance. Adding further to the symbolism is McArdle’s performance of the ailing Danny whose health deteriorates in time with the mines potential closure. The second act of the production is emotionally moving beyond expectation from McArdle and Andrew Dunn as Danny’s son Phil.
The writing and stage direction of Brassed Off manages to create a balanced atmosphere of dark but truthful imagery all the while conveying a sense of honesty through its score and humour. The rôle of women in Brassed Off and the raw emotion and dedication from holding their families together or reinforcing the sense of community and work ethic by Rebecca Clay and Clara Darcy is staggeringly portrayed.
A monolith mining tower is ever present throughout the production, hammering home the historical importance of the mining industry to the North of England. Combined with the street lighting and technical ability of the effects team this production adds a strong sense of realism to the theatre, further drawing the emotions and attention of the audience into these red brick lanes. The humour in Brassed off is one of the strongest parts of the show along with one of its most necessary. Here comedy isn’t used to be crude but to reflect the Northern sense of humour, self-deprecating yet still able to find the joy and diamonds within tragic moments.
Extra appreciation and praise must be directed towards one of the focal points for Brassed Off, the brass band itself. Performing at the King’s Theatre, Dalkeith and Monktonhall brass bands manage to slide expertly onto the stage. At no point overshadowing or drawing attention away from the actors, thus strengthening the audience’s belief in the musical portrayals of the cast. The band offer an injection of hair tingling euphoria and passion that creates a foot tapping buzz felt throughout the audience. Perhaps the easiest way to define the production is found within its climax, where all of the strengths of the piece are proudly displayed: the sincerity; the score; it’s theme, the political stance it takes and especially the humour. Honest and highly recommended.
Runs until 3 May 2014 then touring
Image: Nobby Clark