Thu 4 Jul

”Brassed Off” blasts off with tubthumping triumph at Theatre by The Lake

Barry Ellams from the News & Star reviews Brassed Off - AMID polling day election fever, along comes a rousing politically charged theatre production to get you hot under the collar.

Brassed Off at Theatre by the Lake is a thought-provoking powerhouse that spotlights the crushing impact of a coalmine closure upon families barely staying afloat in deep and debilitating poverty.

It’s a finely poised full blooded rendition of the 1996 classic film set in the fictional Grimley Colliery in Yorkshire.

The original film starring Ewan McGregor and Pete Postlethwaite was a runaway success with an excerpt used in Chumbawumba’s chart topping hit Tubthumper.

This production directed by Liz Stevenson remains generous with its laugh-out-loud comedy moments pitted against gloomy scenes of social injustice and swirling placards of  “Coal not Dole”.

The uplifting music, the raucous humour, the racy love affair between Gloria and Andy, a distracting foil to the grinding despair over the doomed colliery. A highly spirited cast maximise every inch of minimalist floorspace – an almost cavernous set as black as coal is cleverly illuminated. The turmoil and passion underscored by soaring joyous notes including Nessun dorma from the magnificent Penrith Town Band.

North Cumbrian talent helps keep this pulsating play alive and kicking.

Carlisle actor Daneka Etchells delivers a stunning performance as Phil’s exhausted wife Sandra who struggles to feed her family amid palpable hunger and visceral despair. You actually wince when her conflicted husband pays £300 for a trombone in a bid to please his ailing conductor father Danny played brilliantly by Russell Richardson.

Despair over Margaret Thatcher’s snuffing out of the coal industry faces granite resistance as Danny galvanises the band to play on to victory at the Royal Albert Hall competition.

“Three disasters. Two world wars, one bloody big depression. And every time, the band play on.” he screams.

28 years on Brassed off is a bracing blast from the past with grating allusions to the bitter battle between staunch union members and ‘callous but resolute’ government. The struggle of the morale sapped miners and their devastated town, a timely reminder of the cost of living crisis upon low income families. “We are just here to make up the numbers” groans Vera in one searing scene. Yet its the gallows humour and Brass Band melodies that euphorically lifts you out of the pit.

Its jubilance is in its humanity.  A testament to how people beaten down by adversity somehow find a way through. How brass music is not just the lifeblood of a ridiculed community but poignantly reclaimed anthem of opposition. A ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ for working people not the elite few.

This opening night (Tuesday July 2) started the firing gun on a month-long showcase (July 27) by delivering a knockout performance met by a standing ovation.

The dust off this coalpit drama masterfully executed by this talented cast will linger long in the mind.