★★★  | Brassed Off

Set in 1992, Brassed Off tells the story of a small Yorkshire mining town as their pit faces closure, unemployment looms, families struggle and communities rally round to campaign to keep the pit open. But as the saying goes, “where there’s muck, there’s brass”, here in the form of the colliery brass band; whose elderly band leader, Danny, has a dream of taking them to the Royal Albert Hall as finalists of a national competition.

When Gloria, a beautiful young fugal horn player, arrives back in her home town from London, the band welcome her with open arms and the affable Andy falls in love with her. But she isn’t necessarily what she seems, and with the threat of the pit closure growing ever closer, the boys start to wonder why she has a National Coal Board logo on her briefcase.

Based on the film of the same name, Brassed Off was a poignant play about the struggles of a community fighting to maintain its livelihood. The play had some genuine laugh out loud moments in the first act, but as the story unfolds and the situation of the lead characters becomes more desperate, the second act took a more downbeat turn, with a few laughs here and there, but a lot of sad developments to the story. It was a credit to both the cast’s performances and to the writing that you felt such sympathy for the characters as their lives and community were being slowly torn apart.

James Robinson was most notable for his portrayal of Andy – with a natural performance of his character’s cheeky jack-the-lad persona. The remaining cast gelled well together and the sense of camaraderie and community on stage came across as genuine and believable. There were also some very well written roles for the female characters, in particular the determined Rita, excellently portrayed by Helen Kay. Unfortunately, some of the speech was a little quiet at times making it difficult to hear; meaning some of the audience missed out on some of the sharp dialogue.

The brass band performed on stage, played by a combination of the actors and members from a local band, and did a fine job with some uplifting and moving numbers. The play was heavier on the narrative than the music and the only criticism to be levelled was that perhaps the band didn’t play enough throughout the show and especially towards the end.

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The play had a strong political message about the erosion of the coal industry and the impact on small communities. That said, despite the elements of comedy, this was a play whereby, regardless of your political leanings, you left the theatre feeling emotional as a result of the plight of the likeable characters and the empathy garnered towards them as they struggled through. The play did such a good job of drawing you into the lives of the on stage community, that even the upbeat ending seemed bitter sweet. Overall, Brassed Off was an emotional piece of well written and performed drama.

Brassed Off is currently at the Sheffield Lyceum Theatre until Saturday 10th May 2014. Further details and booking details can be found at www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk