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Review: Brassed Off at Orchard Theatre, Dartford

By Chris Price

Brassed Off

Orchard Theatre, Dartford

In both plays and films, often what makes the very best stand apart from the rest is a great score.

In the 1996 movie Brassed Off, heart-on-their-sleave performances from the late Pete Postlethwaite, Tara Fitzgerald and Ewan McGregor made the story of worker unity through their colliery band stand the test of time.

The music actually plays second fiddle – or should that be second trombone – to the gripping backdrop of pit closures, communities torn apart and the dignified stand against “management”.

Andrew Dunn as Phil in Brassed Off. Picture Nobby Clark

Andrew Dunn as Phil in Brassed Off. Picture: Nobby Clark

Which is why it is such a pleasant surprise to be captivated by the band’s rousing music during the stage incarnation of the comedy drama, based on the real life story of the Grimethorpe Colliery Band.

The theatre offers audiences what the film cannot – the thrill of live music played well.

While the storyline faithfully follows the narrative of the film in the fictional town of Grimley in the mid-1990s – complete with its fair share of thickly Yorkshire accented expletives – the show then traps the audience in a fixated calm through renditions of Jerusalem, Death or Glory and Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance.

One of the stand out moments of the film is all the more powerful and impressive when performed live. Jaws dropped as Gloria joins the band’s rehearsal and stuns them with a flugelhorn solo – played beautifully by actress Clara Darcy – in Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez, or Concerto D’Orange Juice as the miner’s call it.

Gilly Tompkins as Vera, Helen Kay as Rita and Luke Adamson as Shane in Brassed Off. Picture Nobby Clark

Gilly Tompkins as Vera, Helen Kay as Rita and Luke Adamson as Shane in Brassed Off. Picture: Nobby Clark

One of the nice touches of the production is it uses local brass bands as it tours around the country, and music was provided by Essex-based Thundersley Brass Band.

Former Coronation Street actor Andrew Dunn is beautifully cast as Phil, who portrays the effect of the closure on individual workers as well as communities. Another star performance came from Luke Adamson as Phil’s son Shane, and the story’s narrator.

There was touching chemistry between Clara Darcy and James Robinson as love interests Gloria and Andy but most people’s favourites were probably John McArdle as Danny and comedy duo Andrew Roberts-Palmer and Kraig Thornber as Harry and Jim. They got all the best lines.

It is a testament to the strength of feeling evoked by the miner’s plight that the story still feels as powerful today.

When it comes to putting on a good tune as well, this production really is top brass.

Brassed Off runs at the Orchard Theatre, Dartford, until Saturday, April 5.

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