Theatre review: Brassed Off @ York Theatre Royal

Published by theartsdesk

VIDEO: Brassed Off trailer

Only a particularly hard heart would fail to be moved by the sheer scale of community fragmentation around the time of the Miners' Strike – for many, the single most devastating period in the north of England's social history. But maybe, just maybe, this Brassed Off  play is not quite as stirring as it should be.

Adapted by Paul Allen from the classic 1996 film, the story about a colliery and its brass band has been revived at York Theatre Royal to mark the strike's 30th anniversary year. Pulling the strings is Damian Cruden, an award-winning director of such vision and skill that his involvement in something even slightly by-the-numbers is kind of surprising.

The production retains all of the film's best lines and makes much of its rugged humour – and that's just as well, because Mark Herman's original screenplay largely spoke for itself. A theatrical spectacle, though, this unfortunately is not. Too often does the emotion feel lukewarm, the scenes one-dimensional, and the plot rushed. This is particularly evident when conductor Danny (John McArdle) steps up to deliver an acceptance speech when his brass band of brothers triumphs at the national championships, soon after losing their jobs at the mine.

"I thought music mattered. But does it? Bollocks! Not compared to how people matter," is such a powerful and definitive line, and everyone in this audience knows it. After all, we sit a mere 40-odd miles away from the former mining village of Grimethorpe, South Yorkshire, on which the fictional Grimley and its colliery band are based. We’re huge Brassed Off fans. However, McArdle's stoic delivery spoils it, compromising an otherwise solid performance by the former Brookside actor, and highlighting exactly how much of a difficult act to follow the late, great Pete Postlethwaite remains.

That said, there are some redeeming qualities in the rest of the cast. More remarkable are Clara Darcy's Gloria, James Robinson's Andy, Rebecca Clay's Sandra and Andrew Roberts-Palmer's Harry, while the dark horse of the show is Luke Adamson, whose role as Phil’s young son Shane – a fun-loving boy slowly grasping what is happening to his family’s livelihood in Grimley – is a key difference between play and film. Adamson featured prominently in last year's First World War outdoor epic Blood + Chocolate, and has the part of 'the honest lad' down to a tee.

Also noteworthy is Dawn Allsopp's evocative set design, and the large ensemble of local musicians, whose renditions of Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez and other numbers are very strong – however undermined by the pop music bridging each scene.

Brassed Off  will always bring the house down. There’s no doubt about that. Given its true-story against-all-odds struggle for the notion of community, it completely deserves to. And yet, despite having all the sadness, anger, despair, desperation, love, laughter and joy to play with, somehow this production lacks emotional punch.


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