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Brassed Off (York Theatre Royal)

York Theatre Royal's ''Brassed Off'', adapted from the 1996 film, sounds great but but lacks emotional punch

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
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There is sometimes a strange paradox in theatre where a stage adaptation can have a longer running time than the film it was adapted from and yet still feel considerably more rushed than its predecessor. This is the case with Damian Cruden (director) and screenplay adapter Paul Allen's adaption of the 1996 film, Brassed Off, the story of a struggling pit community, and its brass band, living under the looming threat of pit closure and the subsequent potential loss of their band and livelihoods.

Brassed Off continues at the York Theatre Royal until 1 Mar 2014.
© Anthony Robling

Lacking cinema's pre-production tricks and techniques, theatre has only the present moment to create an emotional impact. It's a particularly tough ask when the stage production is directly created from an existing film.

An example of this problem is evident in this stage version when new girl Gloria (an excellent Clara Darcy) first turns up for band practice and wows everyone with her rendition of "En Aranjuez Con Tu Amor". In this stage production it is a well-played yet one-dimensional scene, but in the film version the scene is intercut with shots of warring pit bosses and union leaders, creating a heightened sense of the struggle these characters are experiencing and giving an extra layer of meaning to the music.

This difference further highlights another limitation of the way this production has been constructed; we never see the enemy (in this case, the management). In a piece that is so much about "them and us" we never see "them", only "us". If you don't get a sense of the monster, you can't really feel the jeopardy that the characters are in.

So what we are left with is a speedy jaunt through the "best bits" cherry-picked from the film, stitched together without the nuanced shading that creates depth and meaning or a fully realised world (the resultant two-dimensional world isn't helped by the "ee bah gum" Yorkshireness being laid on so thickly). All the emotional signposts are still there but never quite hit the mark. Everything feels a little rushed and incomplete - indeed, one of the biggest scenes at the climax of the piece is handled with such brevity as to be almost inappropriately comical.

However, this production does have many things in its favour. The live brass band music is captivating and sounds fantastic on the Theatre Royal's main stage. Dawn Allsopp's design is impressively evocative and the ensemble cast, a well-balanced mix of experienced performers and young talent, are very strong.

Brassed Off continues at York Theatre Royal until 1 March 2014.