Brassed Off at the National - Olivier
Based on Mark Herman s film of the same name, Brassed Off, has been adapted for the stage by Paul Allen. Sadly, though, the stage version displays only in scant measure the charm of the original. Robbed of leads like Ewan McGregor and Tara Fitzgerald and disjointed in narrative, it comes across as a parochial little tale, barely brightened by performances of decent wattage.
Ostensibly, this is about a colliery band threatened with pit closure. But, below the surface, wider issues than merely the survival of a band are mined. The play becomes just as much about how loss of livelihood can threaten loyalty, pride, tradition, and family stability.
The return of the smart-dressed Gloria (Freya Copeland) to the town of Grimley raises a few eyebrows. Not least because she is wearing a suit, and as a young boy points out, “even the men don't wear suits ‘round here”. The men don't seem to wear the trousers either, in Deborah Paige s production. It's the feisty women who run the colliery picket line and keep bread on the table while hubby's like Phil (Shaun Dooley) blow their money on new trombones.
All runs smoothly when Gloria joins the band and rekindles a teen romance with Andy (Adrian Bower), until the brass section discover Gloria is that lowest of all life forms - management. Gloria has to choose between her job and her friends, a decision which culminates at the London-based final of the brass band championships.
Class division runs like a deep coal seam through Brassed Off, and it isn't long before that other perennial source of animosity, the North-South divide, surfaces. “Do you know the way to the Royal Albert Hall?” bandleader Danny (Peter Armitage) asks the audience at one point. This not being a panto, we stare back quizzically. Danny glowers at us, “Fuckin Southern bastards”.
For all his coarseness, the man may have a point. In London, only ardent socialists can feel real empathy with miners emasculated by pit closures. I m sure that, at Sheffield's Crucible Theatre where the play began its run, the audience would have shared and cared far more about the experiences of these characters, making the tale all the more poignant.
Here, the power of Brassed Off muddied or lost, the de facto stars of the evening were a bunch of softy Southerners - a 30-piece Essex brass band that tripped on stage to reel off classic numbers like “The Floral Dance”, “Danny Boy” and “The William Tell Overture”. If anything, it was this power of the wind instruments, rather than the text, that struck a chord with the audience.