Brassed Off

Date 11th October 2019
Society Winton Players
Venue Festival Hall, Petersfield
Type of Production Play
Director Ryan Watts


Author: Nadine Darnley De Salis

Brassed Off is a play taken from the movie of the same name which tells the story about an ordinary mining town in the North of England and its community of ordinary people coming to terms with the possibility of their local colliery being closed, having potentially dire consequences for the people of the town of Grimley.  The doors of the theatre served as a portal from one place and time to another and I was transported to the Grimley Town Working Mens Club with its meat raffle, brass band playing in the corner, signs and posters of protestations about mine closures and friendly staff pouring the pints for the ‘locals’. This clever concept immersed the theatre goer into the harsh years of the 1990s’ mining towns of the North of England, right from the start, priming me to expect something very interesting ahead. It did not disappoint.

As a first foray into directing, this play is not an easy choice, but through his personal love for the film Ryan Watts executed this first challenge extremely professionally, conscientiously and with great attention to detail. Collaborating with the cast and crew the show produced was of superb quality and effect. Mr. Watts liaised with Liss Band, a brass ensemble which was integral to the story, a band which provided solace and refuge from the harsh reality of life, the hardships of mining, the economic downturn and political upheaval of the time. 

The show opens meeting members of the Ormondroyd family. Shane Ormondroyd, played exceptionally by Theo Lacey, opens with a narrative, introducing the members of his family and sharing his memories of the times. His father, Phil and mother Sandra, played by Joff Lacey and Jo Simmons, made short work of plunging us into the stressed and world weary lives of a large family struggling to make ends meet and the constant worry of what it will mean for them if the mine does close.

We meet Jim and Harry, (Steve Cliff and Phill Humphries) lifelong friends and workmates in the mines, their wives Vera and Rita (Joanne Stevenson and Sarah Whitaker) who fight with other women of the community to stop the pit closures by protesting at the colliery gates, supporting their men as only they know how. The dynamics of their relationships, the humour and fun, juxtaposed with anger and sadness was brilliantly executed by these accomplished actors as the audience were reeled into their ironic wit and affectionate banter and thrown back out again into their despair for the future. We also meet Andy (Matthew Bell) a bit of a lad around town, known for his affections towards women and his cynicism for the world around him. He meets Gloria (Katherine Dodds) possibly an old flame from school who left to prosper in the south but returns as an employee of the Mining Company. She is not received well by the town and mining community and has to deal with their blaming and rejections. Eventually Andy rejects her too. This again was a very dynamic and poignant performance by these very capable actors.

Danny Ormondroyd (John Whitaker), conductor of the brass band, fantastically played a dour and disciplined man. There can be no mistake his life was his Brass Band and his sights were set on winning a competition to play in the Albert Hall. His life was music, his world his band and he expected everyone to be just as dedicated without exception. This was brilliantly portrayed by Mr. Whitaker and he gave an exceptional performance.

The music interjected the performance throughout, the band dovetailing seamlessly into the story, integrating cleverly with the actors who had studied hard with the musicians to ensure their miming of playing instruments was as convincing as could be. It was hard to tell if they were not musicians themselves!

The supporting cast gave high quality performances throughout. The show ran in a very slick and professional manner; scene changes were smooth and even with minimal scenery of a typical terrace of houses with the colliery in the background and, with the use of subtle lighting changes by the Green A team, the stage had an impact. Pieces were brought in to signify a different location for scenes, which is all that was needed.

Although Winton Players are an amateur group this show was very professionally staged and acted throughout. I sincerely felt that I was part of the community and lived the highs and lows of life in a depressed northern town, with its economy floundering and the prospect of a very grim future, with the characters therein. This can only be achieved by a very convincing performance of some very talented people. As they say up north, it was a chuffin’ great show!