Lichfield Garrick Theatre


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31 May 2016

Brassed Off

Comedy with pick and shovel edge

TURNING a film into a play is never easy. Films are episodic, visual, collections of brief scenes but director Chris Rolls and designer Aaron Marsden have done a fine job with this 1996 political commentary on the destruction of the coal industry.


There is plenty of humour in this pro-am production between Lichfield Rep and and Lichfield Players but underlying it all is the despair and bitterness of the miners of Grimley as their still profitable pit, their livelihood and their heritage is about to become history.
Grimley was a thinly disguised Grimethorpe whose pit had just closed and whose world famous brass band provided the players and soundtrack for the film.
The setting is 1994, ten years after the disastrous miner's strike when a Thatcher Government and NUM leader Arthur Scargill had fought to the political death. The miners had lost.
The strike still had bitter memories and recriminations while what little was left of the coal industry was still being destroyed with pits closing and mining communities left destitute and devastated.
All the anger, fears, hopes, poverty, humanity, bitterness and despair are told through the eyes of the colliery band and its first chance to reach the national finals in its history.

Debt-ridden Miner

There were some excellent performances from the pro half of the production with Charlie Buckland as the debt-ridden miner Phil, son of the bandmaster, with a part time job as a clown. His wife Sandra (Janet Bamford) conveys the worry of poverty and debt finally leaving when bailiffs leave the family with just one chair.

There is Rachel Matthews as Gloria, the girl who left Grimley and has returned working for the colliery and fallen again for her schoolboy crush Andy (Matthew Stathers) who is now a snooker playing miner who finds his passion Gloria drowning in his hatred of management.
Among the amateurs Barrie Atchison shows the ideological illogical mind of the old fashioned militant as Jim while Ian Parkes as Harry bumbles through as a solid union member. Stephen Brunton is believable as the dying musical director Danny, who hails from Bradford incidentally, so had no problems with the accent. Danny sees the band as the be all and end all of Grimley, more important than even the pit and the jobs under threat.
And running through it all is that Grimley Band, played beautifully by the prizewinning Amington Brass Band.
The set was interesting using the black expanse of the Garrick stage with no scenery just bare walls which served as everything from the hall for band practice, the streets of the Moorland villages around Oldham and even a hospital with the cast sitting in the gloom around the edges waiting for their cues.
More important though, it also gave the impression of a coal mine deep beneath the earth particularly when a string of bare electric lights appeared in the blackness like the stark illumination along a pit underground roadway.
The production lacks a little bit of pace between scenes, and there are a lot of them, but that should improve as the week goes on, while some of the the northern accents would stand out a bit tha'knows int' real South Yorkshire pit villages.
It was an entertaining evening and even now, 14 years on, in the hands of a good cast like this it still has the ability to move.

Roger Clarke

Second shift . . .


CHEERS from the audience on opening night was music to the ears of the cast in this pro-am production featuring members of the Garrick Rep Company and the Lichfield Players.
A few tears, too, as people reacted to the emotion-charged story of how the talented Grimley Brass Band fought back when it seemed the heartbreaking closure of the local South Yorkshire pit might mean the end of its battle to reach the national championship final at the Royal Albert Hall.
Although it was staged without scenery, the smart uniforms of the award-winning Amington Brass Band provided plenty of colour and their music was frequently greeted with warm applause.
Humour aplenty, too, and sometimes in the incident when one of the amateurs miming with the band saw the mouthpiece fall from his instrument, briefly considered how to replace it, then popped it in his pocket with a shrug.
Excellent performances from the Rep members, Rachel Matthews (Gloria, the local girl returning to Grimley with a special agenda), Matthew Stathers, playing band member Andy who falls in love with her, and Charlie Buckland, the troubled miner in cash-troubled clashes with his worried wife, Sandra (Janet Bamford).
From the Players, Stephen Brunton excels in the role of the colliery band's ailing musical director, Danny, in danger putting the band's interests before the tragedy of the pit closure, and Barrie Atchison is upbeat as veteran bandsman, Jim.
What a performance, too, from 13-year-old Tamworth schoolboy William Stevenson. He plays Shane, son of Phil and Sandra, and is never overawed by the talent around him.
Brassed Off, directed by Chris Rolls, plays on till Saturday night, April 17. Tune in to this one.
Paul Marston