Wednesday, 19 March 2014

"Where there's muck there's brass" - John R Wilkinson

Brassed Off is based on Mark Herman's screenplay of the same name.  The story is about a mining village in Grimley and its community.  The focal point is the village's brass band, led by Danny (John McArdale), and the arrival of Gloria (Clara Darcy), a brass band player.  Shane (Luke Adamson) narrated the moving story and introduced the characters.  Brassed Off is in similar vein to Grimethorpe, a former mining village in South Yorkshire, and its award winning brass band.

The play is set in 1992 when Grimley colliery faced the threat of closure along with doubts of the brass band's future.  Loyalties between the miners and members of the community are tested with these issues. It's only the arrival of Gloria (Clara Darcy) that changes everything through romance and controversy but with hope and support.  The story raised a number of things which are traditionally associated with the mining communities.

Firstly, Brassed Off coincided with the 30th Anniversary of the 1984/85 Miners Strike.  Opportunity is set aside to celebrate and remember the mining village communities.  The legacy continues to live on today as much as when coal mining was at its prime in the 19th and 20th Centuries.  The industry is a lot more than just employment in the colliery.  The mining communities were tight knit communities dependent on the mine for economic and social survival.

The communities are strengthened with its culture and arts.  John Wilkinson stated that brass bands were 'poignant symbols of determination' which remain the pride of the former mining communities.  Grimethrope especially is unique for its award winning the National Brass Band Competition in 1992.  

The play raised about the role of the women and their role in those communities.  The mining villages always have been traditional with the men going down the mines and the women staying at home.  It was unheard of women having professional careers or being part of the brass bands which were traditionally male dominated.  It was certainly an eye opener to the play's characters when Gloria (Clara Darcy) asked to join the band and she, a single independent woman, worked a quantity surveyor in the coal industry.  However during the Miners Strike of 1984 women became proactive members of the community in supporting the miners, joining the picket lines and becoming united in solidarity across the mining communities.

The miners protested against pit closures and the then Government's reasons for 'progress'.  Closure of the pits have had a big social and economic impact to the communities with many suffering social deprivation and a lack of opportunities such as employment and regeneration.  Grimethorpe, especially, became of victim of this, and it's such a poignant reminder of how these communities have been affected but their way of life won't ever be forgotten.

Paul Allen cleverly adapted the screenplay with additional material geared for the community on stage.  Loved how the 1980s/1980s music adapted as a transition between the scenes.  Clifton and Lightcliffe Band was well represented in Grimley with their performance for the final scene when 'Land of Hope and Glory' was performed.  Credit to Dawn Allsop's for her stage design and Mark Howland's lighting.  Brassed Off is directed by York Theatre Royal's Damian Cruden and produced by York Theatre Royal, Bolton's Octagon Theatre and Touring Consortium Theatre.

Appreciation has grown immensely and story's context from seeing Brassed Off and also at the post show discussion with Paul Allen and Clara Darcy.  There is a diverse range of messages raised from the play and there is certainly a lot more than to mining!

Source: Brassed Off Programme, Alhambra Theatre Bradford, March 2014

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