No former mining area needs telling about the effect on its communities of pit closures over the past few decades. The impact has been deep and telling, with the decimation of an industry that used to be central to local life as a whole. What happened to the mines, the miners and their families is understandably well documented and has been seen by many as a significant battle in the ongoing class war between workers and the ruling classes of management and politicians. It's been copiously written about, and the subject of many a mass media project - one of which in particular combined a tribute to miners' struggles with an appreciation of Yorkshire's love for brass band music.
Brassed Off as a 1990s film has a cult following which resonates most deeply perhaps with those who still live in communities affected by the pit closure programme. Starring the late, great Pete Postlethwaite as Danny, the leader and conductor of a brass band attached to fictional Yorkshire pit Grimley Colliery, there was much to admire in the music as well as some riveting acting. And there is also a hard-hitting message about the effect the loss of the pits had on the towns and villages for which they were once the lifeblood.
Now, in Yorkshire, the film has been adapted to the theatre for a mini-tour, with the initial performances fittingly staged at the National Coal Mining Museum on the site of the former Caphouse Colliery near Wakefield. Brassed Off then moved on for three dates at the Carriageworks Theatre in Leeds last week, and there will be a final two performances this weekend at Bingley Little Theatre. It's a nominally amateur production which is nevertheless crammed with highly professional performances from musicians and actors alike. Drama, a rich seam of fairly grim humour and a sometimes unbearable pathos bring the central message home with unerring accuracy. When an audience has laughed and cried, as well as being occasionally shocked into a numbed silence by the harshness of life as portrayed onstage, you can fairly say they've had their money's worth. As a piece of theatre, Brassed Off earns its plaudits with the sheer sincerity of its tribute to the men and women who fought so hard, against all odds, for their pits and their livelihoods as well as their music.
Admirably produced, and directed by Neil Knipe with verve and imagination, the story is fast-paced and compelling. That wonderful brass band sound is interwoven with the dramas of the pithead baths, the band-room, the hospital ward and the domestic strife that goes hand-in-hand with industrial crisis. It would be impossible to single out any cast member; all contribute in full measure to the success of the piece as a genuine working-class opera. Perhaps one special mention, though, for the youngest member of the company, tiny Aurora Harris. Aged well under a year, she carried off her small part with consummate timing, and held the audience in the palm of her hand for her brief time on stage. Definitely a star in the making!
As a fine piece of theatre, Brassed Off is strongly recommended and deservedly attracted the attention of the local BBC Look North programme, which prominently featured the production in the middle of its run. But as a raw and gritty slice-of-life take on some of the most troubled times anyone can remember since the last war, it's genuinely important - and a very timely reminder of the industrial heritage we all still share.
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