Brassed Off

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Adapted by Paul Allen, based on the screenplay by Mark Herman
Derby Theatre

When Derby Theatre staged Brassed Off in 2015, it was at a time when some communities were still waiting to mine the benefits of a regeneration programme after the closure of their pits.

Eight years on, the cost-of-living crisis, with shops closing and nothing taking their place, means that the production is just as relevant as when it was first staged in Derby.

There are several problems with tackling this adaptation of Mark Herman’s screenplay of the film Brassed Off: it needs actor-musicians who can hold a tune as well as getting the most out of Paul Allen’s emotional script; it requires an award-winning brass band; and it needs an evocative set.

Derby Theatre’s artistic director Sarah Brigham has revisited Brassed Off. Not only has she repeated the success of the first incarnation, she has surpassed it, if the reaction of the audience on press night was anything to go by.

Seren Sandham-Davies (Gloria) and Thomas Wingfield (Andy). Above: Gareth Williams as Danny [images: Pamela Raith]

Brassed Off is set in Grimley, Yorkshire in 1994, ten years after the devastating miners’ strike. The community’s pit is under threat of closure even though it is profitable. A recognisable theme?

Some of the miners are struggling financially and will do almost anything to support their family. So when British Coal makes them an offer of £23,000 if they vote to close the pit, the temptation to take the money is difficult to resist.

The only thing that keeps the community together is the brass band. It gives them hope and allows them to be distracted from their desperate situation, if only for a while.

Gareth Williams has given excellent performances on his previous appearances at Derby Theatre. He played Scrooge in Neil Duffield’s adaptation of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol in 2019 and followed that with his portrayal of Derbyshire MP Dennis Skinner in Kevin Fegan’s Palace of Varieties three years later. Here he is terrific as Danny, the bandmaster who comes to realise that people matter more than music. His stirring anti-government rant towards the end strikes a chord with many people in the audience.

No fewer than seven actors who appeared in the 2015 production reprise their roles. Seren Sandham-Davies, who made her professional debut as Gloria, again delightfully plays the young woman born in Grimley who returns to play flugelhorn in the band. Her enthusiasm and naivety about her job researching whether the pit is viable is replaced by a fighting spirit as she realises the miners were never going to beat British Coal.

The cast of Brassed Off and Derwent Brass

Jimmy Fairhurst elicits empathy as Phil, who buys a second-hand trombone even though he hasn’t got the money to feed his family, while Jo Mousley is his anguished wife, Sandra, totally credible as a distraught mother unable to put food on the table for her children.

Howard Chadwick shines as the larger-than-life Harry who believes beer can be a temporary answer to the miners’ problems. Lisa Allen (Vera) and Kate Wood (Rita) are the long-suffering, neglected wives who try to keep their men in check. Jack Waring gives strong support as one of the miners.

There are two other newcomers to this production: Thomas Wingfield revels in the role of Andy, Gloria’s boyhood sweetheart torn between his love for her and the fact that she works for British Coal, and Lee Toomes is excellent as Jim, the bolshy miner who often opens his mouth without thinking.

Also on song are Ali Allen’s set, which has a pithead in the background while Phil and Sandra’s house revolves to reveal the interior, and “Derbyshire’s premier brass band”, Derwent Brass, who give rousing renditions of “The William Tell Overture” and “Land of Hope and Glory”.

Virtually all the audience were on their feet at the end. Sarah Brigham’s production definitely hits all the right notes.

* This review originally appeared on the British Theatre Guide website

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