Eileen Caiger-Gray reviews BRASSED OFF at Sheffield Lyceum theatre
Following its huge success as a film in 1996, Brassed Off was adapted for stage by Paul Allen, opening at the Crucible in 1998. Now this powerful drama of deep tragedy, laced through with hearty laughter, has come full circle to be welcomed home to South Yorkshire at Sheffield’s Lyceum. Thirty years after the miners’ strike of 1984-5, the anti-Thatcher and anti-Tory sentiment in the piece are still met with heart-felt applause.
Guiding the audience with sparkle and charm through this eventful, traumatic slice of history that led to the brutal demise of the once mightily powerful mining industry and the wrecking of every life connected to it, onstage narrator, Luke Adamson, skips about as cheeky-faced, nine-year-old Shane, son of miner, trombonist, occasional clown and would-be suicide Phil, and grandson to passionate bandsman and conductor, the dying miner Danny. Shane is the one who must eventually carry that baton on into a new era.
Bare bricks, front doors and pithead winding gear permanently dominate the stage as they did the lives of generations of families in pit villages just like this one, while simple props – bed, showers, ballot box or band-room chairs appear temporarily beneath them, often courtesy of a large, chunky miner in orange.
Like the film, this compelling play is packed with heart-rending personal struggles, with life, death, politics and music. As an entire way of life is cruelly dismantled as Grimley Colliery closes, and the long era of tight-knit community and camaraderie comes to an abrupt end, the local Newstead Brass Band (plus brass-playing cast members) uplifts spirits with glorious, warm-tone, onstage renditions of Floral Dance, The William Tell Overture, Land of Hope and Glory and Rodrigo’s ‘Orange Juice’ Aranjuez concerto, Clara Darcy playing her flugelhorn solo live in the role of pretty Gloria, romantic partner for Andy and potential management threat to all.
Plenty of banter and inebriated staggering come courtesy of Andrew Roberts-Palmer and Kraig Thornber as Harry and Jim, while the steadfast support and the suffering of the women is portrayed by Rebecca Clay as Phil’s cash-strapped, wife Sandra, permanently surrounded by small children (albeit devastatingly cute ones), Helen Kay as feisty Rita, and Gilly Tompkins who’s a real hoot as Jim’s wife, Vera. John McArdle does a great job as smile-free, earnest, domineering Danny, badgering the band all the way to become champions, while Andrew Dunn, as his son Phil, displays much of that cuddly, befuddled bundle of humour and deep despair he brings to Tony in Dinnerladies.
This is a great entertainment, well done. It’s just a shame it’s based on reality.
Eileen Caiger Gray