Brassed Off review at the Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton – ‘joyous’
Brassed Off is a heart-warming story with a tough streak, not unlike this production. The first in-house show for almost 40 years in this glorious cream-and-claret Victorian theatre is embedded in the community. While showcasing local talent – notably the fabulous City of Wolverhampton Brass Band – the play’s theme of hardship in a mining community in 1994 resonates with post-Brexit economic anxiety.
Still suffering the after effects of the year-long strike a decade earlier, Grimley Colliery families are divided by the offer of redundancy money if they vote for pit closure. Miners still play under their conductor Danny and are joined by Gloria, whose flugelhorn is a welcome addition but who is working for the National Coal Board – the enemy.
Adaptor Paul Allen gives Shane, Danny’s grandson, the job of introducing the story of the band’s competitive exploits: Ash Matthews moves between 20-something and lively eight-year-old with unforced ease. Softer than Pete Postlethwaite in the film, Jeffrey Holland’s Danny is endearingly passionate about the music and, dying from coal dust in his lungs, touching in his final realisation that people matter more than correct brass notes.
The romcom element is well handled by Clara Darcy as Gloria and Eddy Massarella as snooker-playing trumpeter Andy. Gareth Tudor Price directs a disciplined ensemble, community actors blending seamlessly with the professionals, and John Brooking’s set, with its suggestion of a pithead and terraces, allows space for the feel of a thronged Yorkshire mining town.
Adrian Jackson, chief executive and artistic director, the dynamo behind the project, appears as the band’s stand-in conductor and, a musician by trade, he manages the baton with greater aplomb than anyone else in the cast.
This joyous experiment may be the first of many summer shows here.