Ey up…., Brassed Off opened last night at the Rondo Theatre in Cairns.
Audiences were treated to a true taste of Northern England, in fact forget England, this was Yorkshire. No cockney git present, just down to earth Yorkshire lads and lasses struggling to keep t’heads above water amidst the threat of t’pit closing, and there’s nowt t’do about it.
Billed as a musical love story, Brassed Off is so much more.
More than a twee story about a boy meeting a girl after 14 years, flirts, snogs, break-up, get back together, and they all live happily ever after.
Brassed Off is a social and political reflection of a very turbulent and troublesome time. Set in Grimley, a small mining village where the total social and economic lifeblood is the coal mine.
The entire levity and lift in the town is created by the Colliery Brass Band. Grimley Colliery is facing closure and the Brass Band is destined to fold. The Band Master, Danny, played on opening night by Director Wayne Rees is struggling to hold the band together.
As a stage production, Cairns Little Theatre and Cairns Municipal Band could not have tackled a bigger and more difficult production.
Adapted from the 1996 BAFTA winning film of the same name, Brassed off is a historical production, reflecting the pressures on small mining communities in the north.
Set in Northern Yorkshire, you really could not have picked a harder accent to master. Combine that with the scarcity of previous productions required to provide many of the layers and performance nuances required. The director and cast had a huge task, bringing this production to life, and faithfully recreating the tone of the times.
It was a time dominated by the political upheaval surrounding the privatisation and closure of coal mines.
It was a bleak and depressing time for workers and their families, but the Cairns Municipal Brass Band seized the opportunity to showcase a toe tapping musical score.
From Colonel Bogey’s March, an amazing William Tell Overture, so crisp and precise, through to the stirring anthem of the motherland, Land of Hope and Glory to a softer and soulful Danny Boy.
The music carried and lifted the performance.
Please do not be deceived whilst the score is crucial to the story, the lead character Danny put it so eloquently.
“I thought that music mattered. But does it? Bollocks! Not compared to how people matter”
“I thought that music mattered. But does it? Bollocks! Not compared to how people matter”.
This is a story in layers. A family stretched emotionally, financially, and most of all, under pressure within and also with a sick father, and facing a very uncertain future.
Billy Bogues as Phil, the husband and father to three bains. Whilst the complexities of the character and depth of emotion of the time seemed to be a stretch, he still delivered a solid and credible performance.
The role was massive, the emotion was a roller coaster and required greater light and shade, but credit to Bogues, I would come back a second night to see him develop in the part and performance.
“a solid and credible performance”
Phil’s wife is played by Sandra Clark, in her first production with Rondo Theatre. A very family orientated and passionate mother, frustrated by the circumstances she is engulfed within and placing her children first, she takes a stand.
Sandra is credible and immersed totally in her role. She is perhaps the strongest female character yet her role is overshadowed by Christina Uhlik’s portrayal of Gloria
Gloria grew up in Grimley, left school studied at university and worked in London and it sent to Grimley on a PR fact finding assignment and to survey the needs of the town and author the report on the future of the colliery.
Betrayed by her company, accepted then rejected by the Brass Band, fell into and out of a relationship with Andy, the Casanova of the pit. Christina plays Gloria well, however the onstage chemistry with Andy seemed to be a slow burn rather than a true smouldering.
Casanova Andy, played by Keelan Hill, gave life to his character. It was a difficult part. A true Yorkshire lad, steeped in a strong pub culture but torn between a growing feeling of love for Gloria and his loyalty to his mates, band and his laddishness.
“The high point was a soulful rendition of Danny Boy”
The high point was a soulful rendition of Danny Boy. Hill’s voice lifted the song in the second stanza, found the perfect pitch and delivered a sensation interpretation of this classic.
It was a large cast, with many characters, credit to Harrison Clark playing Shane Jr. Harrison is a name we will see more of in coming years. Marshall Betzel as Jim, Ken Cotterill as Harry, Rita and Vera played by Judy Gittings and Debbie Dean, all supported well, and starred in their own right.
Perhaps potentially the most under recognised actor on the night could be 7-month-old Mason Beckert playing Baby. A role he was born to play and played with conviction and panache.
In all, the production was great. Staging in the round was innovative. Set design was simple yet effective along with strong use of audio-visual depicting the setting, strife and emotion of the times.
Opening night jitters appeared to play some part, timings could have been sharper, but that’s just being super critical. The audience loved it. I loved it. It was a production that deserves support.
A big cast melded together to narrate an important era in modern life.
A community destined to be changed and struggling to reconcile that fact.
Change is ever-present in the world particularly now in this late to maybe one day post-COVID world.
Full marks to Wayne Rees as Director and Peter Caldwell as Musical Director. Bringing a large cast together, combining the Cairns Municipal Band with the Cairns Little Theatre and you have roundly delivered.
You’d be a daft ha’peth to miss this one!