7-10 May 2014
Reviewed by Janet Linsell
Staged at the intimate and comfortable Lyceum Theatre in Sheffield, Brassed Off is an adaptation of the screen play from the film of the same name, picturing a pit village in the early nineties with events surrounding the brass band and the closure of the colliery, set in the fictional village of Grimley, based upon Grimethorpe, a South Yorkshire pit village. Many of us have seen the film but the advantage of the live play is to accentuate the humour and deepen the pathos, particularly in this polished, fast moving production.
The story is narrated by a nine year old boy played by an adult. This may sound a strange idea but it works well. He tells the history of his family; his father a miner and band member, his grandfather a former miner and now the conductor and backbone of the colliery band with a single minded ambition for the band to be the best.
The families of the village continue to suffer from the pit strikes and disputes with the debt and deprivation which followed. This seems a depressing subject, however the community, its characters and the humour are the antithesis of depression. The characters and jokes are in some ways stereotypical, but the predictability and anticipation of the jokes made the play more enjoyable, judging by my and the audience’s reaction.
The colliery pitwheel as the central background to the set was an effective reminder of the theme of the play with scene changes in the foreground moving us from street to house, to pit baths and hospital scenes smoothly and imaginatively. The cast are to be complimented on the ease with which they used the stage for example in the band scenes in the practice rooms and in the competition marches, which included many real brass players of the Newstead Brass Band.
The whole show and each scene change was accompanied by pop music of the era. The core music of the show was provided by the real brass band performing several well judged pieces. Whatever your tastes in music there is something deeply emotional about a real live brass band playing classical pieces.
All cast members played their parts well. In particular the well-known faces John McArdle and Andrew Dunn displayed talent and conviction. Gilly Tompkins and Helen Kay were convincing in their roles as miners wives and dedicated campaigners against pit closure.
The lightness and humour are contrasted with bitter sweet scenes of poverty, hardship, family strife, unemployment and depression culminating in a suicide attempt. These conditions are alleviated and even made tolerable by the comradeship and community spirit, so well conveyed.
Judging by the enthusiastic appreciation and applause of the whole audience everyone enjoyed the performance as much as I did. Despite the harsh themes and outcomes the play leaves a sense of hope for the future but still resonating with the current problems of our remaining coal industry.
Tickets cost from £15 to £28 (plus £1/£1.50 traction fee for online and telephone bookings).
For more information or to book tickets click here or call the box office on 0114 249 6000.
Sheffield Theatres, 55 Norfolk Street, Sheffield, S1 1DA | Box Office 0114 249 6000