REVIEW: Brassed Off at Wolverhampton Grand

Brassed Off sees Wolverhampton Grand's much anticipated return to theatre production, for the first time in almost four decades. With the way led firmly by CEO and Artistic Director, Adrian Jackson, this project of passion had complete buy in from the theatre, media and public and has proven itself in so many ways.

Produced completely in house, the show was created for the stage by Paul Allen and tells the story of the troubles faced by a colliery brass band, following the closure of their pit.

Brassed Off is a show full of tales of working class families struggling to get by, camaraderie, dispute and compromise, punctuated beautifully by the unmistakable sound of a brass band; a sound so intrinsically British that it makes the message on stage all the more poignant.

Donna Heaslip (Rita) and Susie Wilcox (Vera) in Wolverhampton Grand's production of Brassed Off. (Credit: Graeme Braidwood)

The first thing that should be commended (and believe me, 'commendations' is an incredibly long list) is the staging and lighting. Using one static set with interchangeable props, the set is so beautifully industrial and hits the nail square on the head without being overbearing or having a need to fly bits of scenery around all evening. By the same token, the lighting is dramatic and visually stunning, adding infinite dimension to the performances on stage.

It sounds a cliche, but the story and message behind Brassed Off is absolutely as relevant today as it was when the piece was conceived. It discusses issues of solidarity and uncertainty and is a story which relies wholeheartedly on absolute credibility to succeed. If we don't buy into the characters, their backstory and the message they're portraying then the show grinds to a halt. However, fortunately, that very much wasn't the case this evening.

Christopher Connel (Phil) and Miriam Grace Edwards (Sandra) in Wolverhampton Grand's production of Brassed Off. (Credit: Graeme Braidwood)

Jeffrey Holland shines as Danny, the conductor of the band. His career speaks for itself and this show gives him the chance to shine. He portrays a man who is fighting through mining related disease whilst battling to be the lynchpin of the band. An actor of Holland's pedigree is a sure fire safe pair of hands for the role and he is a joy to watch.

Ash Matthews takes the role of Shane - a young boy who acts somewhat as a narrator throughout the piece, tying together loose ends and progressing the story. Fresh out of drama school and in his first professional role, Matthews' portrayal is possibly one of the most perfect castings in the show. Whilst he possibly looks a bit older than he should, his enthusiasm and slick, rehearsed performance prove he'll be one to watch in years to come.

Jeffrey Holland (Danny) and Ash Matthews (Shane) in Wolverhampton Grand's production of Brassed Off. (Credit: Graeme Braidwood)

Special mention should also go to Greg Yates and Tim Jones as mining buddies Jim and Harry, respectively. Their previous friendship off stage gives them chemistry which, along with the other pit men, is absolute dynamite. Bringing humour and jaw dropping emotion in equal measure, the talent of both of these individuals is testament to the hard work and pride which has gone into every ounce of sweat shed during the staging of this production.

This show is as much about music as it is acting, and the City of Wolverhampton Brass Band do a sterling job, portraying the instrumentalists on stage throughout the evening. What's even more perfect is that the show isn't reliant on this band for its success. Brassed Off is far more about the people and the stories they have to tell, something which the audience resoundingly appreciated.

Greg Yates (Jim) and Tim Jones (Harry) in Wolverhampton Grand's production of Brassed Off. (Credit: Graeme Braidwood)

Wolverhampton Grand's production of Brassed Off does something that so many of its contemporaries fail at. It's the perfect blend of strong writing, laugh out loud humour and tear jerking emotion. And what struck me is that there are absolutely no gimmicks, no jazz hands - just solid, well executed and poignant performances from a cast who, whether professional or amateur, have set an incredibly high standard for future productions.

It's amazing to see the hard work from the cast and crew, but also from everyone at the theatre. This outing was very much about testing the water to see how it was received. I think it's fair to say that every person in the auditorium tonight was in awe at the quality of Brassed Off this evening and that's testament to the solid, hard working ethos that's allowed this to happen. Long may it continue.

Brassed Off runs until Saturday 2nd September