Review: Brassed Off, Derby Theatre

brassed offThe world has changed since Derby Theatre opened 40 years ago and few places have changed more than the mining communities of the Midlands and Yorkshire.

It was fitting therefore that Sarah Brigham, the theatre’s artistic director chose the celebrated play Brassed Off as a showcase piece to mark it’s anniversary year.

As she told the Gala Night audience this week much of the landscape around us has been developed but what hasn’t changed is the theatre’s commitment to producing top quality drama.

This production has surpassed anything that she’s directed there thanks to its authentic portrayal of the mining community with pride, loyalty and anger at its core.

The set with its towering pithead machinery and images of real homes cemented the reality of the piece right there in the centre of the stage.

The cramped kitchen in the home of quarrelsome Phil, played by Jimmy Fairhurst and the desperate mother of his four young children Sandra, played by Jo Mousley, nailed home the poverty faced by some.

And to truly set the scene the live music from the fantastic Derwent Brass made the hairs on the back of your neck stand up as soon as the first note was played.

The play adapted by Paul Allen from the screenplay for the smash-hit film perfectly captures the resilience and despair felt by the community of Grimley, a mining town based on the real life Grimethorpe.

It is the 1990s when Margaret Thatcher having ripped out the heart of the community during the strike of 1984 returns to rip out its soul by dividing those who are left by offering miners redundancy packages they found hard to refuse.

If they vote yes in the ballot the men could consign both their jobs and the brass-band tradition to history.

In the eyes of Danny, played by Garry Cooper, this would be the end as he believes the survival of the town relies on the survival of the band and not the mines. The gritty conductor whose coughing fits are an ominous sign of things to come is so convincing there’s not a moment when you don’t believe he is actually a brass band leader.

When the musically gifted granddaughter of his late best friend and former band leader Gloria turns up for band practice he throws aside any rules about women knowing that her presence can only enhance the band and help them win a prize he has coveted for years.

If it hadn’t been so early in the play I am sure there would have been a standing ovation when Gloria, played by the extremely talented Seren Sandham-Davies, sailed through a perfect solo performance of Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez (colloquially known as Orange Juice) on her flugelhorn.

As it was the applause was deafening and the actress glowed with the satisfaction of having stunned us all.

Even if you managed to watch that without wiping a tear from your eye you wouldn’t manage it later in the play when the band serenade their stricken leader in his hospital bed with a rendition of Danny Boy.

The play see-saws between political swipes at the Tories and good old hearty, working-class humour and those with the best lines were definitely Harry played by Howard Chadwick and Jim played by Darren Bancroft.

Together with their wives played by Kate Wood and Lisa Allen the duo made sure that the audience had as many laughs as they did tears.

Adam Horvath, who was the first recipient of the Brian Weaver Fellowship at Derby Theatre, revealed just how important the learning theatre has become for bringing on young actors with his strong performance as the fun-loving young Andy torn between his desires for the beautiful Gloria and loyalty to his pit workmates.

One of the toughest roles of the play is that of the young narrator Shane who is played by three lads Joe Mothershaw, Christopher Underwood and Oliver Watts. It was Oliver who got to perform on Gala Night and he certainly won over the hearts of the audience with a very impressive performance.

Brassed Off is a moving play that is remarkable for its candour and this production recognises it for what it is and brings that quality to the fore.

The rest of the cast is Lucy Mabbitt, Bethany Madden and Nikita Mediratta Ensemble; Jake Waring, miner/baliff/announcer; Kiera Bonshor, Ava Lees and Eva Waller as Kylie; Katie Hathaway, Emily-May Stephenson, and Jess Waller, as Melody.

The designer was Ali Allen, sound designer Ivan Stott and lighting Tim Skelly. The musical arrangements for the Derwent Brass Band were by Keith Leonard.

Brassed Off can be seen at Derby Theatre until October 10. For tickets go to