Words by Katy Roberts
Adapted by Paul Allen and based on a screenplay by Mark Herman, this touring production of Brassed Off, based off the 1996 film of the same name, ends it’s tour run, very aptly, in Sheffield. Set in the fictional village of Grimley (which itself is based on the South Yorkshire village of Grimethorpe) in 1992, Grimley Colliery is under threat of closure and the future of the colliery brass band hangs in the balance. The miners are torn between redundancy packages of £23,000 and the picket lines, and with the national brass band competition drawing ever-nearer, band-leader Danny’s hopes of winning seem like nothing more than a distant dream. But the arrival of flugelhorn-playing Gloria Mullens shakes up the tightly-knit community, bringing romance, hope and controversy as the Grimley Colliery band faces collapse.
Directed by Damian Cruden, this is a story which resonates deeply with many people, proven by the sold-out audience at Thursday night’s performance. The group of miners are played wonderfully by a range of actors, but it is Andrew Dunn and John McArdle as Phil and Danny, respectively, which give the production it’s real heart. Phil is a man who is torn between providing for his family, and pleasing Danny, his father, who values the success of the Grimley Colliery band over all else. He is a sympathetic character, and easy to empathise with, especially during the play’s darkest moments. Similarly, McArdle’s portrayal of Danny is heart-wrenching to watch, because there is nothing the audience wants more than to see Danny’s dream come true, after all these years, and all his effort.
Rebecca Clay as Sandra, Phil’s wife, also puts in a fantastic performance as we see her fall into despair over her husband’s actions, and her desperation to want to be able to provide a better life for her children. Clara Darcy as Gloria is also wonderful, capturing the character’s devastation at being ostracised from the community due to a case of misunderstanding over the pit’s closure. The one jarring aspect of the production is the inclusion of the character of Shane, Sandra and Phil’s eight year old son, played by Luke Adamson, a 24 year old actor, in a narrator-style role. The role feels unnecessary and superfluous to the production, and the age gap between the actor and the character being portrayed just feels odd.
However, it is the Newstead Brass Band who make this production truly shine. With all of the songs so well-loved from the film, the first time the band strikes up in the first rehearsal scene of the show, the emotion throughout the audience is palpable, especially during Gloria’s flugelhorn solo which was mimed in the 1996 but is played for real onstage by Darcy. Truly a goosebump moment. And these moments continue throughout, every time the band perform, showcasing just how wonderful brass music can be. The production’s finale, ending with a rendition of Land of Hope and Glory as in the film, is hugely emotional and really hits home the gravity of what the pit closure means to each and every member of the band, and what winning the National Championships means to them, too.
Like the film, Brassed Off is a heartwarming production which examines the impact of the closure of the coal mines during the mid-1990s and the impact it had on whole communities and families, using relatable, likeable characters, which makes their plight all the more emotional to watch, and their successes even sweeter. But it is Newstead Brass Band who are the stars of the show here, lifting a great story to even greater heights, packing a real emotional punch within a story that resonates with thousands of people across South Yorkshire and beyond.