Brassed Off – Review – Bradford Alhambra

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Brassed Off – Review

Bradford Alhambra Theatre, March 2014

by Sandra Callard

Inspiring, passionate, uplifting – words that can legitimately be used when speaking of Brassed Off. The many thousands of us who saw the film will be familiar with the story. It is about the threat of closure to Grimley Colliery in South Yorkshire under the Thatcher regime. What is equally heartbreaking to its leader, Danny, is the impending demise of the local brass band, and its ability to take part in a national brass band competition in the Albert Hall. The story follows the miners’ concerns with both issues. Their passions, heartbreak, and human endeavour – and their ultimate indomitable spirit and triumph against seemingly impossible odds.

Brassed Off Feb 2014The stage setting, predictably, is a huge pit shaft. It is complete with wheel, ladders and lift. The scenes are changed by a slight moving of props on the periphery of the pit to represent houses, streets, rooms and pubs. The opening scene where the lift opens and miners, complete with helmet lamps, exit at the end of a shift to the gentle strains of a brass band is hugely effective.

“Sharp intake of breath”

John McArdle follows in the footsteps of the wonderful Pete Postlethwaite as he plays Danny, leader of the band. McArdle barely puts a foot wrong. His threats, cajoling and one-liners to the band members in his efforts to get them to the brass band final are a joy, in spite of the abundant bad language. His impatience with the miners, who see possible closure of the pit and the resultant trials of their families as more important than the survival of the band, is slightly incongruous. But it makes the famous finale ever more heartbreaking and joyous.

There are some outstanding performances, amongst them Andrew Dunn. He sympathetically and poignantly plays Danny’s son, Phil. In one resonant scene attempts suicide by hanging himself from the pit shaft. Dressed in a pathetically sad costume of a clown – his part time job – and it is so realistic and shocking you can hear the sharp intake of breath throughout the whole auditorium.

“Rousing, funny and sad”

Brassed Off Feb 2014Kraig Thornber also shines as Jim, miner, husband and bandsman. He holds his loyalty close to his heart, but nevertheless has a cracking line in comedy. Luke Adamson who plays Shane, the eight-year-old son of Phil, as an adult looking back at the traumatic years of the miners’ strike, gives a clever and very effective performance.

Nothing stirs the Northern Heart like a brass band. It has to be said that the ultimate stars of the show are the players in the Clifton and Lightcliffe Band. They give fantastic renderings of favourites such as ‘The William Tell Overture’, ‘The Floral Dance’, the glorious ‘Jerusalem’ and, of course, ‘Land of Hope and Glory’. Who needs the Proms when you have all that?

This is a rousing, funny and, at times, sad play. It brings back memories to those of us who lived through the terrible miners’ strike of the 80s. It takes us into the fierce and proud heartland of Scargill country. With the hopes, fears and ultimate demise of countless communities. The play is a salute to the hopes, fears and camaraderie of the miners. Their spirit lives on in this stirring and heart-warming play.

Pictures: Nobby Clark

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