BWW Reviews: BRASSED OFF, Lyceum, Sheffield, 7 May 2014
The film Brassed Off sometimes suffers in comparison to The Full Monty - released a year later, but which seemed to better capture the public imagination. It's interesting, then, that the touring stage play of Brassed Off should arrive at the Lyceum around a year after The Full Monty wowed the home crowd (albeit less so the West End). It's hard not to make comparisons when they are both set in South Yorkshire in the 1990s, both feature the impact of industrial decline during the Thatcher and post-Thatcher eras, both deal with the differing roles of men, women and children in these communities and both feature salvation through group recreation, be that brass bands in this instance or stripping in The Full Monty.
It's a little unfortunate, then, that Brassed Off (A Touring Theatre Company, York Theatre Royal and Octagon Theatre Bolton production) doesn't quite match up to Sheffield Theatres' version of The Full Monty. Its storyline is perhaps a little too predictable and its set pieces not quite as exciting. However, that's not to say this production doesn't have a lot to commend it - and the full house at the Lyceum clearly enjoyed themselves watching it.
With this year marking the 30th anniversary of the Miners' strike, the show offers a timely reflection on the events of that time as it focuses on the impact the potential closure of Grimley Colliery might have on its workers, their community and families - and on their brass band.
One of Brassed Off's key strengths is the way it deals with the conflicts of the characters - on the surface protesting against the pit closures; in private thinking about what they could do with the compensation money - in an era where most public sector workers have again been engaged in industrial action, it's a timely reminder of the complicated responses workers have when they want to do the 'right thing' but find what is 'right' for their colleagues and community may conflict with what is 'right' for their families. The cast do excellent work at portraying these tensions. The scene where Phil (Andrew Dunn) is driven to despair by being unable to do what is 'right' by the different people competing for his attention is incredibly heartbreaking yet contains real humour in its tragedy. Brassed Off also does a good job of highlighting the tensions and divided loyalties the wives of the miners feel.
The audience highlights were the live brass band performances - which managed to contribute equally to the pathos and comedy of the piece. The cast had a great energy, as did the brass band, and engaged the audience's sympathies well. I wasn't entirely convinced about the rationale for having an adult play the show's narrator, Shane, (who is eight during the story) - or even whether it needed a narrator, but Luke Adamson is excellent in the role: cheeky and energetic enough for the production to get away with it.
The set was well designed by Dawn Allsop, placing the colliery at the centre through the whole production. The scene changes, however, could have been handled better - excerpts of songs from the 1970s, 80s and 90s (some from later than the 1994 setting) were played with seemingly no real thought to which songs might fit where most effectively, and abrupt cuts in and out of the music rather than fades - these changes were often so short that they probably didn't need music to support them - or perhaps the show could have used members of the brass band to play something instead.
Overall, though, whilst this production may not have had quite the razzle-dazzle of Sheffield steelworkers stripping, it was still very well received by the audience. Jokes at the expense of the Tory party and ordinary folk overcoming adversity will always go down well in the People's Republic of South Yorkshire.
Brassed Off is at the Sheffield Lyceum until May 10.