Mon 8 Jul

Soaring, thrilling music makes Keswick theatre’s Brassed Off so compelling

Ross Brewster from the Keswick Reminder reviews Brassed Off "There is nothing like the soaring, thrilling sound of a brass band"

There is nothing like the soaring, thrilling sound of a brass band to make the hairs on the back of the neck spontaneously stand up. It’s the music, in different parts poignant and exciting, that is the making of this splendid production at the lakeside theatre.

“As a play it holds the attention, but it is the music that is truly compelling”

This is the theatre version of a much-admired film of the same title about a South Yorkshire community about to lose 100 years of employment in the local pit, and quite feasibly its brass band which is so much integral to the life of that community.

People are poor but loyal. Life is tough enough without the miners being asked to vote for a £23,000 pay off and accept the mine will shut down. Some want to fight tooth and nail to save the mine. Others sense the grim reality. At times it threatens to turn colleagues against each other while in the background gutsy, indomitable wives continue what is surely going to be a futile struggle.

Maxine Finch as Rita and Joanna Holden as Vera typify the spirit of these people. However there is a brutal honesty about the play along with its warmth and wit. Russell Richardson’s Danny is passionate about music and Grimley Colliery Band. It’s his life’s ambition to have them one day play in the Royal Albert Hall.

Perhaps Danny’s musical ambitions blind him to the enormous strain poverty is putting on his son Phil, empathetically played by Joey Hickman. Spending £300 to replace his broken trombone is the last straw when Daneka Etchells’s Sandra can barely feed the kids spaghetti hoops for breakfast. Matt Ian Kelly and Greg Patmore, Harry and Jim, fitted together more like an old married couple than two stalwarts of the band.

Meanwhile the return to Grimley of a former resident Gloria, stirs a youthful romance with Andy (Barney Taylor).  Hannah Woodward’s good looking Gloria joins the band, and a fine musician she is, but soon it becomes evident she is here to produce a report on the mine and the re-kindled love affair is broken.

The community, in the post miner’s strike era, is torn by inevitable change. The very solidarity that has kept it alive is now stretched to breaking point.

The 10-strong cast, plus some members of the youth theatre, give it their all, but ultimately the memory that will live with the audience is the music, introduced sparingly in the first half but building to a crescendo in a riveting second half. There’s the Floral Dance and Nessun Dorma, and later Land of Hope and Glory, although the play tells us that the world according to this mining community is neither hopeful or glorious.

“Does an ailing Danny get his wish? I won’t spoil it. But Keswick provides its own Albert Hall”

Brassed Off, adapted for the stage by Paul Allen, based on Mark Herman’s screenplay and directed by Liz Stephenson, is at the Theatre by the Lake until July 27.

The production features live music from Penrith Town Band, and an admirable job their members make of it.

Ross Brewster for The Keswick Reminder review of Brassed Off.