Danny

Jeffrey Holland as bandleader Danny

Brassed Off

Wolverhampton Grand

23 August - 2 September 

It is nigh on 40 years since Wolverhampton Grand produced its last show so Brassed Off, which opens this week, is another landmark in the theatre’s 123 year history.

It marks a return to being a producing rather than a receiving house and chief executive and artistic director Adrian Jackson’s choice of both designer and director has a familiar ring to it.

Gareth Tudor Price, former artistic director of Hull Trucking Company, and Stoke-on-Trent theatre designer John Brooking, both worked on many successful productions with Jackson at Lichfield Garrick so give the production a firm foundation with an already established team.

The play chosen for this return to producing is one which still stirs emotions 33 years after the bitter miners’ strike and its aftermath.  

shane

Ash Matthews as Shane, Danny's grandson

Based on the 1996 film, Brassed Off is set in the fictional village of Grimley 10 years after the miners’ strike, although Grimley is Grimethorpe in all but name, a village were half the population worked down‘t’pit.

Grimethorpe colliery was shut down in 1992 and two years later an EU study named the village as the poorest in Britain and amongst the poorest in Europe. Unemployment was more than 50 per cent and a large proportion of the population were disabled, most from mining related injuries or conditions. 

But Grimethorpe had its colliery brass band, which, perhaps, along with Black Dyke Mills, was the most famous brass band in the world. Four days after the Government shut the pit the colliery band won the national brass band championships at the Royal Albert Hall – an event which was the inspiration for Mark Hermon’s film.

The play is set in 1994 with the pit threatened with closure and bandmaster Danny determined nothing, pit closure or no, would stand in the way of his band playing in the national championships.

Taking on the role of Danny is Walsall born actor Jeffrey Holland, affectionately remembered as Spike in Hi Di Hi. But as he says, this is a very different role for him. He is an actor known for his ready smile and revels in comedy, but Danny doesn’t do comedy and he certainly never smiles.

Earlier this year we talked to Jeffrey Holland about his role as Danny, his early career, his patonage of The Grange Playhouse in Walsall, where he appeared as a 19-year-old, and looking forward to a Christmas off with actress wife, Judy Buxton.

West End and Broadway actor Christopher Connel plays Phil, Danny's son. a troubled trombone player with crushing debts and bailiffs hovering, who tries to earn a few extra quid as an inept childrens’ entertainer while Birmingham actor Miriam Edwards, a regular at Coventry Belgrade, plays his wife Sandra and Ash Matthews plays Shane, their son, who acts as a sort of narrator or Greek chorus.

In the USA, where there had been no miners’ strike, the film was billed as a romantic comedy, and the romance comes in the form of Andy, the miner, played by Eddy Massarella, who has appeared at The Globe in London, and Gloria, who left the village only to return as a consultant working for the pit management. Gloria is played by Clara Darcy, who is also a skilled trumpet player in a part where Gloria plays Joaquín Rodrigo’s haunting Concierto de Aranjuez:II Adagio on the flugelhorn – Orange Juice as the band called it.

sandra

Miriam Edwards who plays Phil's wife Sandra, Danny's daughter-in-law.

Pit villages had one purpose – to hour miners; when the pit closed there was nothing to fall back on. The village died bringing unemployment, deprivation and debt in its wake.

The memories of the strike, which saw violent pitched battles between police and miners, and the wave after wave of pit closures were still raw when the film came out and a generation on there are still mining areas where police are unwelcome but sometimes necessary visitors and there is a legacy of hatred for any Tory government.

Forty years ago there were 250,000 miners and in 1983, a year before the strike, there were 174 pits: at Christmas, 2015, Britain’s last deep mine, Kellingley colliery in North Yorkshire, which in 1986 produced 404,000 tonne in a single shift, closed. The end of an industry.

Earlier this year we talked to Jeffrey Holland about his role as Danny, his early career, his patonage of The Grange Playhouse in Walsall, where he appeared as a 19-year-old, and looking forward to a Christmas off with actress wife, Judy Buxton.

Roger Clarke

08-17 

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