Reviewed by Kathryn Carr
Kay Mellor’s Band of Gold was a sensational TV hit in the 90s and whilst I remember tuning in religiously, the characters and plot escaped me. I was still eager to review this new, theatrical take on said programme as one thing I do remember, was how it captivated me. In a time before ‘on demand TV’, the wait for each episode left me on pins, eager for the next instalment. I was equally excited for my date with The Lowry Theatre at Salford Quays to come around.
Band of Gold tells the tale of four women. Sex Workers. Often, the way in which prostitutes are portrayed doesn’t allow an audience to see the person behind the profession and one thing I will say above all else, is that writer Mellor certainly achieves her goal in getting the audience to know and in most parts, care, about her characters.
The story sees Gina, played rather wetly by Sacha Parkinson, turn to prostitution in an attempt to repay the debt she’s fallen into after separating from her abusive husband. I can’t decide whether it was the character or the actress that didn’t do it for me, though I do feel Sacha lends herself to more period type roles, as per the ones in Mr Selfridge and The Mill. When Gina comes to a sticky end, I’m not overly upset. And when the play becomes a whodunnit, it doesn’t hold the same grit Mellor’s TV dramas are known for, and instead, becomes somewhat of a farce. That’s not to say, I didn’t enjoy the show. It was all very entertaining. There were certainly laughs but I would have liked the drama to have evoked more tears. The serious issues are almost disguised by comedy. Sometimes uncomfortably so.
Looking at the publicity surrounding Band of Gold, the first thing that jumped out was the number of familiar faces in the cast, many of whom are soap veterans. It was however, the lesser known members of the ensemble that in my opinion, carried the show. That said, the absolute star of the show was Laurie Brett, best known for the role of Jane Beale in EastEnders. Believable, funny, and a poignant portrayal of a lady who is an unusual mix of naive and sass. Laurie plays Anita, one of the four leading ladies, who doesn’t consider her to be a Professional, perhaps because her ‘boyfriend’ pays her in sofas as opposed to hard cash! Speaking of sofas, they play a central role and are key to the super simple set design. Switches between scenes see the swapping of sofas, each soft seat signifying we’ve entered someone’s house. Usually, I’m all for a stripped backstage but the set was missing something. The bare surroundings don’t match the warmth of the characters.
The character I most warmed towards was Carol, played by relatively unknown Emma Osman. Carol is a headstrong young mum, with a hard exterior and a kind heart who is determined to keep her work and her role as a mother separate. I loved Emma’s scenes with one exception, and that’s those with her love interest – Inspector Newall, played by Shayne Ward. There was little chemistry between the two and scenes that could have radiated affection, were more than awkward. Shayne, who may have been a pull for certain members of the audience is absent from the show until after the interval. Somewhat of a confusion for those who think they’re coming to see the X-Factor-come-Corrie star. Shayne mumbled his way through many a line, with the sudden interjection of a shout that appeared to almost come about as a direct result of him reading ‘Say this line loudly’ on his script. His part is pretty forgettable.
Similarly, I was a little disappointed in Rose, brought to life (or should I say performed to stereotype) by Gaynor Faye. I love what I’ve seen of Gaynor previously and I’ll advise you to take my criticism with a pinch of salt. Everyone fluffs their lines at some point and maybe she was just having an ‘off day’. Whilst the chemistry between the four leading ladies was impeccably strong, this didn’t appear to extend to relationships outside their ‘clan’.
One of my favourite characters was Loan Shark, Mr Moore. Played by Joe Mallalieu, Mr Moore was every bit as sleazy and sour as I wanted him to be. Kieron Richardson, of Hollyoaks fame, another name that may have attracted a few ‘Oooooos’ took the relatively small part of Steve, Gina’s bully of a husband. He played the domineer well but I wanted to see a pinch more of the charm that Gina must have fallen for.
Converting a TV serial into a two-hour stage play can’t have been the simplest of tasks but Mellor did it. The story unfolded allowing us to get to know the characters; the plot being almost secondary. The writing gave the characters a voice and the real enjoyment of the production was the personal insight to life on the ‘Lane’. Over the years, I have followed Mellor’s career, thoroughly enjoying her successful and ground-breaking drama series, including Fat Friends, The Syndicate and Girlfriends. I was excited to see her work brought to the stage, performed in front of an audience. For me, the success of her TV dramas has been down to her ability to tease triumphs and tragedies together to mimic the ups and downs of real life. This didn’t quite translate to stage. The tragedy wasn’t really that heart-breaking and the happy twist of a climax wasn’t that heart-warming. Heart-breaking and heart-warming to me, define Kay Mellor.
Fans of Ms Mellor may be more disappointed than other audiences, but I wouldn’t want to put anyone off coming to see this show. It’s not a thrilling seat-gripper but it is a revealing insight into a life less known, ironically full of situations you’ll empathise with and moments that’ll have you laughing along.
Tickets cost from £17.50 (booking fees may apply).
Kay Mellor’s Band of Gold is at The Lowry in Manchester from 21-25 January 2020, for more information or to book tickets visit www.thelowry.com or call the box office on 0843 208 6000.
The Lowry, Pier 8, Salford Quays, Manchester, M50 3AZ | 0843 208 6000