Many happy years in this reviewer's life were spent in a hapless non- critical capacity just enjoying theatre as a form of entertainment and pleasurable education and there's nowt wrong with that lad. Then in the late 1980's this same reviewer took an unexpected big step into the world of higher education - an arts degree no less. This happened after a sudden redundancy from the Derbyshire based butchery firm he worked for at the time. Times were definitely 'a changing' as a certain Mr Dylan sang. Back then the papers and telly were full to bosting with news of the miners' strikes, the new and hated Poll Tax, Mrs Thatcher's government this and that - force for good - force for evil - dependent on the individual's and popular tabloid's bias. Be it political with a capital or small 'p' there was no escaping the dark mood of the apparently 'United Kingdom' in the 1980/90s and all domestic and economic security seemed to be going to rack and ruin for many. Communities in nearby or neighbouring Yorkshire, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire, in the period covering the mid 1980s towards a decade later, felt the crippling effects of the changes and the devastation of once solid and mutually supportive mainly - working class - hands on - hard graft - industrial societies.
Meanwhile, this erstwhile and perhaps rather naïve theatre goer continued to haunt the Derby Playhouse, as was, and he saw every production at least once but, on the whole, considerably more times than that. The Derby Playhouse box office coffers swelled significantly at his generous and perpetual attendance.
Vicariously, he learnt so much psychological truth about other people's lives and gained much insight into the character's politics in all the senses; socially; politically; theatrically; surreally and even sexually. A certain German touring production of Miss Julie in the studio space even included real life naked actors!!!! Tut tut!
This theatrical house of 'well repute' was alive and kicking and still remains so today as it celebrates forty years of existence in its current form of the acclaimed Derby Theatre. Tonight this reviewer was honoured to help celebrate those forty years of theatrical excellence and wallowed in nostalgia as he chatted with friends new and old and counted at least 80% of the posters on the stairwell as shows he had enjoyed and even had been inspired to act in himself somewhat later in life.
Current artistic director Sarah Brigham, in a pre-show speech, referred to the hugely important need for a critical audience to share the theatrical experience and that notion can only be applauded and amalgamated into our shared theatrical consciousness. There are times in life when the spoken word can be perceived and truly understood as properly inspirational - not just some token 'put together' words for the occasion - but utterly heart- felt and honestly conveyed with a voice full with genuine hope and belief at its core. That is what I heard this evening. I heard of a Derby Theatre that has deep meaning for its community and beyond; one that is educational, inspiring and recognised. Here's to the next forty years and the future generations of theatre makers and theatre goers! I guess you were expecting a review of 'Brassed Off' so please read on...
Derby Theatre's gritty and realistic production of Brassed Off adapted by Paul Allen for the stage is as fluid and emotionally taut piece of theatre that you are ever likely to see on a British stage. It is directed with passion by Sarah Brigham and encompasses an incredible total of twenty-two actors (a professional and non-professional mix) who work on the piece over its entire run - plus a further, and much applauded commitment, from no-less-than forty members of the acclaimed Derwent Brass Band split between the shows. This band's involvement and talents cannot be under-estimated and must surely contribute to the standing ovations that the show has currently received every night of its performance so far.
Stage designer Ali Allen has brought to the stage a visual and working class concept that is abjectly poetic in its grimy coal crunching boot honesty. The fictional mining town of Grimley is conveyed through a clinging solid wall of grey dust and a clever perspective of council houses that desperately huddle together with coal dust hanging in the air and over every rimy roof - visually intimating a wintery despair for all. You can almost enter each property unseen in your head and visit the ghosts of Grimley's future. There they sit, angry, bleak and desperately cloying against mildewed wet-netted windows sodden with condensation under a pall of social doom. However, the tiny 'just visible' red light of the distant pit head depicts the ever prevalent human hope of the miners and their community. Imagination is all.
Well, this all sounds a bit Bleak House doesn't it? All is not lost though as this play offers a chance of hope and spirit renewed as the members of the fictional Grimley Brass Band struggle through their existences; their troubled lives; fatalities even, and as each political and social disaster befalls them mutual support prevails and prejudices are challenged for the better.
There are some excellent naturalistic performances from Garry Cooper as the passionate yet ailing Danny and Adam Horvarth as love struck Andy struggling between his feelings for old flame and talented brass band horn player Gloria (Seren Sandham-Davies) and the harsh realities of pit comradeship. Jimmy Fairhurst excels as troubled clown and miner Phil and his scene as he literally hangs from the pit head is heart-stopping and tragic.
At the throbbing heart of this poignant and often wryly funny piece are Darren Bancroft as Jim, Howard Chadwick as the lovable rascal Harry and the beating pulse of the piece belongs to the miners wives and girlfriends played with utter conviction and honesty by Jo Mousely (compelling as Sandra), Kate Wood as Rita and Lisa Allen as Vera. Supporting the female side are ensemble members drawn from Derby Theatre Community Ensemble - Nikita Mediratta, Sophie Whitebrook, Bethany Madden and Lucy Mabbit.
Brian Weaver Fellowship actor Jake Waring convinces us so well in his parts as miner, bailiff and announcer that he is barely recognisable in each separate role.
The children in the Brassed Off play are as important as the main actors and tonight Oliver Watts as Phil's son Shane totally steals the show. In a ridiculously assured performance his wish in the programme notes to one day 'be' an actor are blown out of the proverbial water. He 'is' an actor and a darned good one at that. With such promise maybe in twenty years time we will be enjoying his performances on the professional stage as an adult.
In a theatre full of 'hope and glory' the audience rise in a standing ovation at the end of an emotionally fulfilling night at Derby Theatre and in their unifying victorious applause are determined that the spirit of community and love of theatre is alive in Derby and beyond!
See DERBY THEATRE WEBSITE for booking details but don't leave it too long as this one is fast becoming a near sell out production.
For a fascinating insight into the working lives of Brassed Off actors Howard Chadwick and Jake Waring check out their recent interview HERE.
Production photos credit: Robert Day.