Brassed Off – Review – Junction Goole
By Rachael Popow, March 2019
As someone who went to quite a few miners galas and NUM marches as a child, and has therefore seen my fair share of colliery brass bands, I’ve always had a soft spot for the 1996 movie Brassed Off. I’d argue it’s better than that other ‘plucky northern underdogs putting on a show against a backdrop of industrial decline’ comedy, The Full Monty, which was released less than a year later.
So, I’m probably the ideal audience for Spoken Word’s stage production of Brassed Off at Junction Goole. However, you don’t need to have a personal interest in tales of pit closures, or be a fan of the movie, to enjoy this funny, warm-hearted play.
If you are new to Brassed Off, it’s set a decade after the miners’ strike in the fictional pit village of Grimley (inspired by the real Grimethorpe), which boasts a colliery brass band that has been going for over a century. However, its future is now hanging in the balance as the miners prepare to vote on whether the pit should stay open – and if they vote no, they stand to collect a bigger redundancy pay off than if they take the mine to a review, which could result in it being closed anyway.
As far as the band’s leader Danny (William Knight) is concerned, that’s just a distraction from the more pressing matter of an upcoming competition. But it’s weighing heavily on the minds of the rest of the members, including his son Phil (Jason Revell) who has never financially recovered from the strike. Meanwhile, the arrival of Gloria (Sophie Cox), a Grimley native who is somewhat vague about her reasons for returning, is also taking some of the musicians’ minds off their instruments.
The transition from screen to stage isn’t entirely seamless. In the first act, TVs are used to show news reports and management pronouncements to put the story in context, but in the second act, their main function seems to be restating the obvious. And although it sticks closely to the plot of the film, the bittersweet ending here seems a little rushed.
But the humour, drama and the strain of anger have definitely survived as Brassed Off explores what losing the pit would mean to the community – and the music hasn’t been lost in translation either. As well as a strong cast (with Jack Armstrong, who plays Andy, the Ewan McGregor role from the film, being among the standouts), the production also boasts the Beverley Brass Band. They perform everything from ‘Danny Boy’ to the ‘William Tell Overture’ on stage and, when the script requires it, also manage the difficult job of being bad on purpose.
It all adds up to an enjoyable and often moving night out. Brassed Off even got the thumbs up from my dad, a former pit electrician who took me to all those miners’ galas. Although he did point out that the lamps on the casts’ helmets would never have been declared safe for use in a mine…