Emma Osman as Carol, Laurie Brett as Anita, played by Virginia Byron on Press night and Gaynor Faye as Rose, Pictures: Ant Robling

Band of Gold

The Alexandra Theatre


Even in Kay Mellor’s sanitised, pimp-free world of prostitution in 1990’s Bradford the picture is bleak, a world of despair where the daily goal is survival.

Her trio of sex workers are not your cheery tarts with hearts, although they do look out for each other, and they don’t complain, or feel sorry for themselves. There are regrets and there are dreams but mainly life is about getting through each day with enough money to pay the rent, pay the bills, bring up a child in one case – and sometimes having to take on extra clients, ironically, to pay the fines for being found guilty of prostitution.

There is Carol, brassy, confident, seemingly in charge of her ckients, played with a sure touch by Emma Osman. Carol has a daughter, Emma and she keeps her profession and home life separate, determined her daughter will never have anything to do with the sex trade.

With no skills to speak of prostitution is merely the way to finance motherhood. When not “doing” a client, she spends her time bleaching and cleaning her flat to ensure Emma never touches anything that might have been contaminated by her profession.

It is a hard life making ends meet and the fines can tip a girl over the edge, perhaps even having to resort to borrowing money from a loan shark and then forced to pay him off . . . horizontally, should we say.

Loan sharks being the parasites preying on the vulnerable with astronomical rates of interest, penalty clauses, late payment charges, and anything else that can be thought of which make their loans near impossible to ever pay off, although payments can be covered in, should we say, other ways

Then there is Rose, hard as nails Rose played  by Gaynor Faye (Emmerdale) the matriarch of the good ladies of the night, or at least keeper of The Lane, the road where the sex.trade is concentrated, the city’s Red Light district (a description supposedly first popularised in Dodge City in the days of cattle drives incidentally ), and no girl works here without her say so.

Faye gives her a hard edge, and perhaps not quite a heart but at the very least a soft centre. We discover she is a drug addict and years ago had a baby daughter taken away by social services who claimed she had left her all night.


Andrew Dunn as the corrupt Coun Ian Barraclough

The intervention might have been justified, a drug addict mother on the game, but the reason was wrong, an injustice which still haunts Rose who had only left her baby for a few minutes just to get her some milk. She wrote a letter explaining which the social said they would give the girl when she was older.

The final member of the trio of working girls is the delusional Anita, played on Press night by understudy Virginia Byron in a performance that will have done her reputation no harm at all.

She gives us an Anita who sees herself as respectable – or at least within touching distance of respectability. After all she has a flat paid for by her boyfriend and is no longer in the game – well not as much as she was if truth be known,

She rents her flat out for Rose’s girls, for a cut, and her boyfriend is bent cleaning contractor George, played by Mark Sheals (Coronation Street) who keeps her as his own personal whore, the flat being both an investment and a sort of payment in kind.

Rose thinks he will one day leave his wife for her, a sort of Bradford version of Pretty Woman. She probably believes in unicorns and fairies as well. Apart from using her in the obvious sense, he also uses her to procure girls for clients, to help in contract negotiations, in this case Coun Ian Barraclough, played by Andrew Dunn (Dinner Ladies) turning his hand to genial baddie. With a big Arndale contract at stake the council bigwig merits not just one but two one night stand bribes.

Remember the loan sharks? It is one such, Mr Moore, played in a sinister, menacingly pervy, sleazeball fashion by Joe Mallalieu, who introduces a fourth member to our trio of hustlers, not a formal introduction, mind, just building up her debt to a point where selling her body was the only way out.

This is Gina, played by Sacha Parkinson. Gina, who has thrown out abusive and totally unlikeable husband Steve, played by Kieron Richardson (Hollyoaks) and is trying to make ends meet as an Avon rep. But with a child to bring up she is struggling, so enter helpful Mr Moore with his £500 on oh so easy terms.

She becomes a hooker just until she has paid off the loan then she is going to go straight, as she puts it, except, new at the game, she makes a rookie mistake which costs her her life.

Looking after her child while she is out selling cosmetics, now merely a euphemism, is mum Joyce, played by Olwen May, a cleaner, low paid, with a husband she hates, and who cannot believe her good girl daughter could have been on the game.


Gina, played by Sacha Parkinson and her abusive husband Steve, played by Kieron Richardson

While arriving to investigate the murder we have Insp Newall, played by Shayne Ward (X Factor, Coronation Street) who, we discover, has a history with Carol which goes beyond the professional in his time with Bradford vice squad – although why a murder squad DI now with West Midlands Police in Wolverhampton would pop up investigating a murder in West Yorkshire Police’s Bradford is a somewhat bigger mystery than who killed Gina.

A quick perusal of the murkier recesses of the internet will quickly show you that variety is the spice of the sex trade as well as life. If it is physically possible there is probably a site for it somewhere out there and thus we have Curly, the processed chicken magnate with a skin complaint, played by Steve Garti, who shells out £200 a pop and dons his pink Marigolds for . . . you really have to see it to believe it. That guy is seriously weird.

Mellor gives us an ending which is different from the TV series on which it is based, after all six episodes of series one had to be condensed into a two hour play. Characters had to go, storylines trimmed. There is the killer to be revealed, and a surprise new girl on the block, and the chance of escape for our trio in an ending of hope,

It is a play with humour, earthy at times, with some sad moments. It doesn’t really tell it like it is, but then again it doesn’t glorify prostitution, no one is going to leave wondering where you can join up, and it brings up some of its causes, ambition being pretty low down the list.

Little girls grow up wanting to be pop stars, ballet dancers, celebrities . . . precious few if any harbour an ambition to be a prostitute, but that’s still how some end up.

The reasons are legion, from sex trafficking from Eastern Europe, to internet grooming and violent coercing of runaways, but this was the 1990s and Mellor touches on some causes then, such as mental problems, drugs and, perhaps the biggest recruiter of all, poverty, which 30 years on, is still something which is growing in Britain, with burgeoning food banks, and a Universal Credit system which is a documented reason for a spike in prostitution, a body being the only thing left to sell by the poor.

Janet Bird’s setting with sliding panels and roll on beds and furniture is clever and with well-paced direction from Mellor herself, keeps things moving while Jason Taylor’s lighting adds gloom and atmosphere, as well as dramatic shadows to the plot with Mic Pool’s sound design adding period music to the mix.

Band of Gold is a thriller which has a good heart, and a cast of women who smile and face up to adversity with stoicism – while the men . . . to be honest none of ‘em come out of this too well. It is solid entertainment, well written, leaves you guessing as a whodunit, but be warned, behind the banter and girls together camaraderie in a world of love for sale, there is a grim, jagged edge. To 15-02-20.

Roger Clarke


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