Mon 24 Jun

Interview with Paul Allen, writer of the stage adaptation of Brassed Off

We caught up with Paul to find out more about his involvement in this iconic play...

How did the stage adaptation come about?

Towards the end of 1997 I was Vice-Chair of Sheffield Theatres and I got a call from our Chief Executive, Grahame Morris. Many theatres were in crisis after a period of serious underfunding but we had done worse than some others. He told me that if the last production of the financial year didn’t make a positive contribution to the bank account and all our creditors called in their debts we could be technically facing bankruptcy. Should we, he asked, be reviving a hit show about the Beatles that had done well in the 1980s? Without thinking about it I asked him if it wouldn’t be better to see if we could get the rights to adapt Brassed Off for the stage… I hadn’t even seen the film at that point but my friend, the writer Alan Plater, had recommended it and I had a hunch Channel 4/Miramax might like to do a favour to a struggling theatre in South Yorkshire.

As it turned out, they would. I was due to go on holiday to New Zealand over Christmas, which I did, not wishing to be divorced, then came back at New year and got started. At which point the National Theatre suddenly had a hole in its programme because of difficulties with Moscow Arts Theatre. Could we fill the space? Me, subbing for the theatre of Chekhov? And having to submit a script to Trevor Nunn as well as the Crucible’s Artistic Director, Deborah Paige? I ploughed on from there…


It’s been 28 years since the film was launched, 26 years since the stage version premiered at Sheffield Theatres, and it’s been staged countless times. Why does this story hold such enduring interest? And why is it relevant to tell this story now?

I never expected enduring interest to be honest. I thought I was a hack digging my beloved theatre out of a hole. It did well enough for Sheffield Theatres to mount a 13-week tour and then it all went pretty quiet for five or six years. And then it got brassily noisy again. I think the places that wanted it tell you the story. Birmingham and Liverpool, York (twice), Bolton, Oldham (three times) and then Clwyd in Wales. Somewhere in Germany. Amateurs in Australia. All places with industrial history and bands of their own but – I think this is the important thing, especially now – all places where communities were being fractured. I think this is a huge issue today. And I think a sense of community is expressed in music, especially music as openly emotionally expressive for the last 200 years as that of brass bands. Community trying to survive the threats of unemployment, breaking families and the sense of self-worth that came from the big industries.


What do you hope the audience will take away from this story?

I’ve seen it a lot but I still choke up at the end. Not all families are happy and not everybody wants to live in one, but the family experience rather than the individual is our primary introduction to human relationships. I hope that Brassed Off focuses on things that we need to understand and cherish, however we choose to live, and does so with powerful emotion. From young love to old loyalties, these are the things that endure in a changing world. Plus some fantastic brass music, of course. Yes, I am an old sentimental failed trombonist!