A stirring production made relevant again by today’s disaffected society

Jeffrey Holland in Brassed Off
Jeffrey Holland in Brassed Off

Review

Brassed Off

Devonshire Park Theatre

Eastbourne Theatres has again come up with a hugely entertaining ‘first’.

In association with Wolverhampton Grand Theatre, Devonshire Park Theatre is the venue for a one-off production of Brassed Off.

The play is set in 1994, ten years after the miner’s strike which remains etched in the collective consciousness of coal-mining areas in the North of England.

Many of which have never recovered from pit closures ordered by Mrs Thatcher.

Centred on the village of Grimley, where the future of its coal mine hangs in the balance, the miners have to vote on whether to accept redundancy payments or send the pit to a review panel to determine whether or not it should remain in existence.

It is a toxic situation in which everyone in the close knit community is involved. None more so than the Grimley Colliery Band which here takes centre stage.

This socially conscious play,irrespective of the time lapse between real events and the present day, is directed by Gareth Tudor Price. With a set of back-to-back houses and the foreboding presence of towering pit-head machinery, designed by John Brooking, there are more than passing similarities to elements of today’s disaffected society with its food banks and unemployment.

The colliery band, intimately involved in every aspect of village life, remains determined to follow its time-honoured tradition by entering a local marching band contest and then, hopefully, reaching the Royal Albert Hall for the finals of the national brass band competition. Music fills the theatre from start to finish. With the Eastbourne Silver Band, under musical director, Marcus Plant, on stage to provide the real thing, it is sometimes difficult to distinguish whether one is watching a concert with a story or a play featuring a brass band.

In truth it is the latter but it still provides a scenario which the audience enthusiastically embraces. The Grimley Colliery Band is led by veteran conductor Danny (Jeffrey Holland) and centres on four bandsmen, Phil (Christopher Connel), also Danny’s son, Harry (Tim Jones), Jim (Greg Yates) and Andy (Eddy Massarella).

They are joined by Gloria (Clara Darcy) who after a long absence from Grimley rekindles a teenage romance with Danny. She is also an accomplished flugel-horn player – so too is the actor in real life – and is readily accepted into the band. But why has she returned carrying a Coal Board logo-ed briefcase? The apparent conflict between ‘us and them’ reaches a climax with the eviction for rent arrears of Danny’s wife Sandra (Miriam Grace Edwards) and their four children. Danny’s eldest son, Shane aged eight, is played with astonishing insouciance by Ash Matthews who also fulfills the key role of narrator linking together diverse elements of the play.

This is a fine production worthy of enjoyment beyond the stirring music. One moment uplifting and amusing, the next sad and thoughtful. Never brassed off.

By Roger Paine