Thursday, 15 November 2018

Thought-provoking adaptation continues to ask hard questions

Thought-provoking adaptation continues to ask hard questions

BRASSED OFF shows no signs of tarnishing with age.

First produced in 1998, this poignant socio-political play by Paul Allen is set a decade on from the painful time of the miners’ strike and pit closures of 1984-5.

Tory governments were set on closing the coal mines whatever the cost to the communities whose livelihoods revolved around them. The shockwaves from that time are still felt today in mining towns and villages. Gritty stuff for the text of any play.

Add to that a few tear-jerking sub-plots such as an ill-starred romance, the personal fallout of a family losing its home, the despair of a community when it loses its only economic lifeline and the passion of one dedicated man to his brass band and you have Brassed Off.

The challenge to many a theatre company has been that of involving a brass band, live on stage. The Henley Players are here blessed to have a superb brass band based in nearby Marlow who were willing and more than able to underscore this production of Brassed Off.

If you enjoy brass bands go to the Kenton to see Brassed Off. If not, go anyway and prepare to be converted. You will be.

There are some superb performances in this production — in particular that of Adam Bell as Andy, the young man torn between his love for Gloria (Michela Evans — a gripping performance throughout) and loyalty to the coal miners’ cause.

Sabrina McMann as Sandra, the wife of coal miner Phil, also has split loyalties. She loves and supports her husband’s attachment to the brass band yet, when the bailiffs arrive, enough is enough.

Poor Phil is almost destroyed by his failure to provide and turns to a new career as a clown entertainer for children — very Freudian — and botches a suicide attempt, but all is well for them in the end.

The fall guys and comedy distraction are Jim (Mike Fields), his drinking mate, Harry (Mark Wilkin) and their long-suffering hugely funny wives Vera (Liz Keen) and Rita (Jenny Sakal), all very well played.

A special, special mention must go to Danny (Richard Evans) as the dedicated bandleader. His performance is superb throughout, with a powerfully delivered and controversial closing speech in particular.

My only niggle is with the set of this production. It needs to be black in tune with its mood, its message, the demise of coal mining, the destruction of communities and of lives — but I did yearn to see some use of 21st century digital technology — projected news reels of the day, perhaps? An opportunity for creative direction missed? That said, I realise there are always budgetary restrictions, but hey, blow the budget and make exciting theatre.

I wish I could say that Brassed Off is a happy ever after play but, given the hindsight of history, we all know that’s just not true.

It is a thought-provoking and engaging play, raising many questions — such as what holds a community or a group together (shared activities) and what tears it apart (the offer of money versus values and a future).

Sharing an activity bonds us with our fellow humans. Staying at home on the sofa watching television will never do that, so book your tickets now for Brassed Off at the Kenton Theatre and bond with the audience.

Until Saturday.

Bridget Fraser

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