Mon 8 Jul

“Gripping in-the-round production” Brassed Off review

David Pollock from The Stage reviews Brassed Off at Theatre by the Lake and awards it 5 glorious stars!

The timing of this touring production of Paul Allen’s 1998 theatrical version of the 1996 British comedy film feels perfect. Directed by Liz Stevenson, it recounts the story of a Yorkshire colliery band attempting to save local pride and identity while their pit finally faces closure a decade after the 1984 miners’ strike – a tale that resonates powerfully in the days following a historic Labour election win.

“A line about the Tories always getting in draws chuckles from the audience”

Another, delivered by desperate, broken dad Phil (Joey Hickman) in his guise as a part-time children’s clown, sees a Conservative MP lampooned. Moments later, Phil attempts suicide. It’s a sobering reminder that political vendettas and decisions have real-world consequences.

“Stevenson’s in-the-round production is gripping”

Simon Kenny’s set features a large lighting rig shaped like a broken wagon wheel and a coal conveyor belt erupting from the floor that doubles as a podium or a bench, as required. This leaves space for members of Penrith Town Band to mingle with the 10-strong ensemble – many also musicians – convincingly recreating the sound of a full brass band, arranged and supervised by Matthew Malone. It illustrates the capacity of music to offer dignity and hope.

“Stevenson directs her cast with precision, hitting every note of tension, sadness and black humour perfectly”

Along with Hickman’s Phil, we meet his long-suffering wife Sandra (Daneka Etchells), his brusquely stoic bandleader dad Danny (Russell Richardson) and his children, including Shane (Andrew Turner), who narrates from the future as an adult. Andy (Barney Taylor) is the local charmer, reunited with first love, mining company administrator and mean flugelhorn player Gloria (Hannah Woodward), while unreconstructed old miners Harry (Matt Ian Kelly) and Jim (Greg Patmore) and their wives Rita (Maxine Finch) and Vera (Joanna Holden) are at once sharp comic relief and the heart of the play.

Events veer from masterly comedy – the beery, beautifully choreographed all-day band competition played out as farcical, toppling march – to bitter poignancy – the climactic reclamation of Land of Hope and Glory for the people. When the band inevitably wins the cup, we applaud its achievement as loudly as we cheer the play itself.

David Pollock for The Stage review of Brassed Off.