brassed off

Brassed Off

Derby Theatre

*****

SOME question the relevance of modern theatre to the world around it. Those doubters should take a trip along to the Derby Theatre to watch Brassed Off, a play about a closing colliery, and its brass band.

Derbyshire was a coal mining county as recently as thirty years ago. A full house, and their response, on a Monday night, paid testament to the connection that the audience felt to this play.

Key to the success of this production is a live brass band, which was exactly what Director Sarah Brigham gave us in the shape of the Derwent Brass band. The rich plangent tones of brass have a unique quality, rousing, melancholic and nostalgic, and the evening treated us to a mini concert within the play, each number earning deserved extended applause from an appreciative audience.

The film upon which the stage play is based is amongst the finest observations of British social history in the past half century, and I suspect that most of the audience will have seen it. Pivotal to its success were Pete Postlethwaite as band conductor and leader Danny, and Tara Fitzgerald as Gloria, new band member and management interloper.

For this production Garry Cooper plays Danny, Seren Sandham-Davies plays Gloria. Cooper is superb as Danny. He bears a physical resemblance to Postlethwaite and drives the band, and production with his obsessive commitment to music and the legacy it offers. Only at the end is he riven with doubt as he delivers an oration on the social injustice of the mine closures which drew spontaneous applause .

Sandham-Davies has a tough job, not only does she have to take a principal role, she also needs to play lead parts with a Flugelhorn. I suspect that the criteria for this part thinned out the audition process a little!

Fortunately, not only is Seren an accomplished musician, but she also plays Gloria with considerable aplomb, Feisty and articulate, and sexy with it, she charms both the defecting band members and audience.

Gloria’s paradox is wanting to belong. She has returned to her hometown, childhood sweetheart and industry which her family worked in, at a time when all those things are disappearing as she knew them. That paradox underpins the part, and is well portrayed by a fine young actress.

The huge advantage of the staged version over celluloid is the emotional impact of a live brass ensemble blowing through the music, such as Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez , with skill and brio. Tara Fitzgerald merely had to mime the fiendishly difficult flugelhorn solo in the film – Seren performs live.

In supporting roles, Darren Bancroft (Jim) and Howard Chadwick (Harry) delight and entertain as comedy double act friends. Chadwick has the physique of a miner who probably didn’t need mechanical tools, whilst Bancroft has the best line of the night as the numbers who might vote for the redundancy package are assessed: "Nobody ever says they voted Tory either, but somehow the buggers keep getting in."

Jo Mousely (Sandra) is wonderful as the mother of four trying to keep the family together whilst the bailiffs systematically strip the house. Child actor Joe Mothershaw plays the part of Sandra’s eldest son and narrator with confidence and conviction.

Paul Allen has done an excellent job adapting Mark Herman’s screenplay for the stage, this is no pallid facsimile of the original. Stage designer Ali Allen opts for a largely minimalist kitchen sink set depicting homes and silhouettes of an industrial landscape, but the harrowing suicide scene is graphically staged against the pit head wheel.

Director Sarah Brigham was a stickler for accuracy in her previous Derby Theatre production Solace of the Road. That authenticity, and attention to detail is an integral part of this emotional and compelling production which deservedly evoked a standing ovation at the close. Brassed Off  runs until Saturday 10th October.

Gary Longden

21-09-15 

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