Review: New shine to Brassed Off

Brassed Off. (Picture by Nobby Clark)
Brassed Off. (Picture by Nobby Clark)

Review by Vicky Carr

Brassed Off, York Theatre Royal.

Turning popular films into stage shows seems to be the thing to do these days.

From Dirty Dancing to Shrek, any story which works on the big screen is being transferred to the theatre soon afterwards.

It was no surprise, then, to hear that a stage version of Brassed Off had been created, following in the footsteps of the likes of Billy Elliot and The Full Monty, both of which are also set against a backdrop of working class struggle. However, Brassed Off at York Theatre Royal was far from the all-singing, all-dancing extravaganzas of the West End – and it was all the richer for it.

The story sees the community of Grimley shaken by the planned closure of the colliery, the town’s biggest employer.

As the workers and their families fight the proposals to varying degrees, they find traitors in their midst, while the future of Grimley Colliery Band, which has united them for generations, also looks uncertain.

Taking up a large area at the back of the stage, the pit tower was an ever-present reminder of the crisis facing the town, looming over proceedings both literally and metaphorically, with everything else working around it.

It played its part in one of the most moving scenes when, faced with losing his job, his family and his ailing band-leader father, miner Phil (Andrew Dunn) tried to take drastic action. His desperation was not only well acted but cleverly and convincingly staged.

The relatively simple set allowed the cast to shine, creating a strong sense of community and believable relationships, and conjuring up a town where outsiders were those who had not lived there for their entire lives.

A few of the Yorkshire accents were slightly off target, though that may be less noticeable to audiences elsewhere in the national tour.

Among those who stood out were Luke Adamson as Shane, a young narrator who also played his eight-year-old self in a charmingly child-like way, and John McArdle as band leader Danny who dreamed of leading the group to stardom.

However, Brassed Off would be nothing without its music and the musicians – members of The York Brass Band – who performed on stage as part of Grimley Colliery Band were the true stars of the show.

Playing in rehearsals, at competitions and even, at one point, marching while under the influence of alcohol, they brought the story to life in a way which would not have been possible without live music.

Brassed Off is at York Theatre Royal until Saturday, March 1 and tours the UK until May, including dates in Bradford and Sheffield.

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