Although ostensibly about a colliery band aiming to reach the national brass band championships, Brassed Off is a deeply political piece about the declining coal industry and the power of community.
Conrad Nelson’s production for the New Vic nimbly moves between humour and darker moments of poignancy with powerful effect.
Originally a 1996 film starring Ewan McGregor and Tara Fitzgerald, Brassed Off is set in Grimley, a fictional Yorkshire mining town where the pit is about to close. The New Vic has taken Paul Allen’s adaptation of Mark Herman’s original screenplay and reimagined it in-the-round, fully utilising the pockets of space around the auditorium and the talents of its cast. The nine actor-musicians blend naturally with Crewe’s impressive TCTC Group Brass Band in providing live music on stage.
For all the play’s positive messages, it is anger – which characters direct towards both the establishment and each other – that fuels much of the action. Resentment is evident in the bickering between Phil (William Fox) and Sandra (Susie Emmett), a result of an ongoing struggle to make ends meet. Fox and Emmett portray the domestic disharmony effectively, while never making the audience doubt the characters’ underlying love. Martin Barrass gives a heartfelt performance, too, as band leader Danny: his final speech is as rousing as it is touching.
The focus on music does not come at the expense of visual touches. Miners’ lamps shine through the darkness as an apt reflection of the hope offered by the band in a time of adversity.