Jeffrey Holland as bandmaster Danny with the Grimley Colliery Band, played and playing, by the City of Wolverhampton Brass Band

Brassed Off

Wolverhampton Grand Theatre


In an era when plays are struggling to win audiences outside London, a drama with a hard hitting political message may seem a brave programming choice.

While it may have been easier to go for the relative security of tried and tested classics, The Grand have shown impressive faith in a piece of theatre that is undeniably bleak at times but equally heart-warming and, at times, very funny.

Paul Allen’s stage adaptation of Tim Herman’s 1996 screenplay retains the charm and character of the film, whilst expanding on the opportunity to explore the characters and their environment.

It is, by its theatrical nature, a more intimate telling of the tale. That said, it loses none of the hard truths that pepper the original script. And the brass band music - that iconic, warm Yorkshire sound - never fails to strike a chord.


Ash Matthews as Shane, Danny's grandson, making an impressive professional debut in his first job after graduation from college

The story and its themes are familiar and are certainly no less relevant is these times of austerity. A community ripped apart by the closure of its core source of income; relationships tested to bursting point as money runs out along with hope and security; friendships cracked as stress levels soar; and livelihoods and day to day structure threatened in one foul swoop. Little wonder there was anger.

This is no gentle hint that something was wrong. It’s a full-blown expose of the damage caused by the government in power. Arthur Scargill’s battle with Margaret Thatcher is well documented. What is perhaps less known is the human effect and the aftermath. The sheer strength of the wives, for example, throughout the crisis whose support never wavered.

Whilst never straying from the play’s main focus, there is so much more here than a slice of dark politics. Dialogue, whilst appropriately robust, is beautifully observed and, at times, very funny. Characters speak their mind but always with honesty and a touching regard for each other. Even in the face of such hardship, that Yorkshire grit shines through.

Gareth Tudor Price directs with sensitivity, bringing the best out of a large ensemble cast. There are no bystanders here - everyone has a crucial part to play and the merge between the professional and community actors is seamless throughout. His use of underscoring not only fills scene changes but also serves as a powerful frame to some of the speeches.


Miriam Edwards as Sandra, Danny's daughter-in-law, who lives in daily fear of bailiffs

Music, of course, is central to the piece. The Grimley Colliery Band, the heartbeat of the community, is a much-needed means of escape from the day to day realities. But what an escape. It is testament to the power of music and its very real place in the world. There are times in the theatre when hairs stand out on the back of the neck. This is one of them.

Jeffrey Holland is an amiable Danny, the leader of the band. His final speech is beautifully measured - moving and real but without over sentimentality.

Strong performances too from Miriam Edwards and Christopher Connel as the married couple, Danny's son Phil and wife Sandra, struggling to keep their heads above water in a sea of debt.

Clara Darcy, an accomplished trumpet player, and Eddie Massarella provide romantic interest as Gloria and Andy, testing the theory that love is the most important thing.

Ash Matthews as Shane brings real energy and pace to the role. A symbol of hope and too young yet to be embittered by life. His first job out of college… it’s a terrific start.

Alongside a core of professional actors are community performers who more than hold their own. Clever and creative casting means that everyone shines. An ensemble piece in its truest form.

John Brooking’s impressive design is suitably stark, perfectly evoking a proud but struggling town. Actors find their light in the shadows whilst the iconic wheel of the colliery winding gear dominates the skyline.

Credit too for the City of Wolverhampton Brass Band, not only for their exquisite playing but for their acting . . . something they are presumably not as used to displaying.

This is the first in house play under Artistic Director, Adrian Jackson. It’s a fine example of the type of community theatre that delivers on every level. It may have been a brave choice, but it has worked and it deserves to be seen. To 02-09-17

Tom Roberts


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