REVIEWS: Brassed off, A Number and Threepenny opera

John McArdle in the stage version of Brassed Off.
John McArdle in the stage version of Brassed Off.

A series of reviews on the plays we’ve been to this week.


Brassed off, shefield lyceum theatre

Following its huge success as a film in 1996, Brassed Off was adapted for stage by Paul Allen, opening at the Crucible in 1998. Now this powerful drama of deep tragedy, laced through with hearty laughter, has come full circle to be welcomed home to South Yorkshire at Sheffield’s Lyceum. Thirty years after the miners’ strike of 1984-5, the anti-Thatcher and anti-Tory sentiment in the piece are still met with heart-felt applause. Guiding the audience with sparkle and charm through this eventful, traumatic slice of history that led to the brutal demise of the once mightily powerful mining industry and the wrecking of every life connected to it, onstage narrator, Luke Adamson, skips about as cheeky-faced, nine-year-old Shane, son of miner, trombonist, occasional clown and would-be suicide Phil, and grandson to passionate bandsman and conductor, the dying miner Danny. Shane is the one who must eventually carry that baton on into a new era.

Like the film, this compelling play is packed with heart-rending personal struggles, with life, death, politics and music. As an entire way of life is cruelly dismantled as Grimley Colliery closes, and the long era of tight-knit community and camaraderie comes to an abrupt end, the local Newstead Brass Band (plus brass-playing cast members) uplifts spirits with glorious, warm-tone, onstage renditions of Floral Dance, The William Tell Overture, Land of Hope and Glory and Rodrigo’s ‘Orange Juice’ Aranjuez concerto, Clara Darcy playing her flugelhorn solo live in the role of pretty Gloria, romantic partner for Andy and potential management threat to all.

Plenty of banter and inebriated staggering come courtesy of Andrew Roberts-Palmer and Kraig Thornber as Harry and Jim, while the steadfast support and the suffering of the women is portrayed by Rebecca Clay as Phil’s cash-strapped, wife Sandra, permanently surrounded by small children (albeit devastatingly cute ones), Helen Kay as feisty Rita, and Gilly Tompkins who’s a real hoot as Jim’s wife, Vera. John McArdle does a great job as smile-free, earnest, domineering Danny, badgering the band all the way to become champions, while Andrew Dunn, as his son Phil, displays much of that cuddly, befuddled bundle of humour and deep despair he brings to Tony in Dinnerladies.

This is a great entertainment, well done. It’s just a shame it’s based on reality.

- Eileen Caiger Gray

A Number, York Theatre Royal Studio

The last time this show was seen in Yorkshire it was with father and son acting team Timothy and Sam West.

In York, George and Niall Costigan take on the roles of a father and several clones of his son. Caryl Churchill, a dozen years ago now, wrote this play as an exploration of human cloning and the consequences of our scientific advances. Costigan senior plays Salter, a man who we believe lost his son in a car crash and who, stricken with grief, found the money to create a clone of his son.

As the first clone arrives at the door, we realise the story as we have heard it might not be quite what it seemed. There is a major issue with this play in that it is, arguably, a fascinating essay wrapped up in a piece of theatre.To some, that is a problem, others will enjoy the intellectual demands of the piece. Similarly, while some will find Churchill’s stilted dialogue off-putting, others will enjoy hearing the words that lay in between the lines she has crafted.The production wins the argument that it is more than an essay by being smart, sharp and clinical.

Costigan senior and Junior do sterling work, although Niall sometimes finds himself relying on cliche to differentiate between the three different versions of the character he is playing. There is much here to recommend a fascinating and intelligent discussion of a complex issue.

- Nick Ahad

Threepenny Opera, West Yorkshire Playhouse

Why should this play, this production, exist now? If the answer can’t be given robustly, then a production is coming from a weak starting point. This production of Brecht’s coruscating work couldn’t be more timely, relevant and necessary.

In a time of austerity when society’s vulnerable feel more attacked than at any time in the past decade, the story of the survival of the “untermensch” needs to be told.

Pushing the Brechtian principles from the very start, this production from leading disabled theatre company Graeae begins in the foyer with the cast singing protest songs about living life underfoot. While there is energy and anger on stage, it is not always laser guided, at times leading to a messy production that feels like it is lacking focus. The performances are not always sharp, although the music and singing are both top notch. A great singing voice and wonderful stage presence, Milton Lopes as Macheath is not always convincing. The women are stronger, Amelia Cavallo as a particularly feisty Jenny and Natasha Lewis as Lucy are both completely engaging.