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THEATRE REVIEW: Brassed Off, presented by St Nicolas Players at the South Holland Centre, Spalding




Whatever your view of Margaret Thatcher, the miners' strikes of the eighties and nineties and the subsequent pit closures, for most it's certainly not a black and white issue.

What's not in doubt is that communities were ripped apart, some relationships did come to a premature end as a result of financial burden and many families had to suffer dark, miserable times.

But surely, amid all that, people still laughed, dreamed, made love and held aspirations... and all that came across beautifully on Friday evening.

Some of the principal actors.
Some of the principal actors.

Of course all but the most hard hearted of Thatcher admirers in the audience would have left this show with food for thought - this story is very much from the perspective of the miners - but they would have also arrived home knowing that the cast had given Paul Allen and Mark Herman's masterpiece the best treatment an amateur dramatics group possibly could have.

Many will know the story - it's 1994 in South Yorkshire and a young miner and a government official fall in love amid a backdrop of closure threatening the mine and its band reaching the national final - but if you enjoy that, why not buy the DVD and stay home?

No, this is live performance and, while we know the plot is stellar, it's the actors, the musicians, the directors, producers, people working on light, sound, props, costumes, set construction and all the other many jobs around an amateur group that matter.

Dominique Spinks.
Dominique Spinks.

And I don't think I've ever seen an amateur performance that got it so right.

Let's start with the actors. As my colleague Winston Brown said in his review of the final run-through on Tuesday evening, there were three outstanding performances.

Star of the night for me had to be director Martin Tyrrell, who stepped into the role of veteran band leader Danny after Michael Barron landed a part in a BBC production. Martin acted and directed this show superbly and I hope he feels as fulfilled tonight (Saturday), after the final show, as he should.

Brassed Off was chosen as a tribute to St Nicolas Players' legend Philip Bosworth, who died this year - it was he who was at the helm when St Nics performed this in 2006 and it was one of his favourites.

Philip Bosworth, who directed St Nicolas Players' original production of 'Brassed Off' in 2006.
Philip Bosworth, who directed St Nicolas Players' original production of 'Brassed Off' in 2006.

Martin's emotion in his performance was as if he was acting for Philip. His portrayal of a single minded brass band leader whose only aim in life - above all family and all friends - was to reach the national finals at the Royal Albert Hall - was immense. His speech at the end, where he finally realises, close to his death, that it's actually people that matter, was mesmerising and powerful - he brought tears to people's eyes.

Robert Nicholls was also superb as Phil, a down-on-his luck miner who is struggling to put food on the table for his family while still paying off debts accrued while serving a prison sentence for his actions during the first set of strikes ten years earlier.

His is a tragi-comic figure, one minute trading comedy blows with wife Sandra (Emma Dobson), the next fretting about his broken trombone and finally spiralling into desperation when debt collectors take everything he owns and his wife and kids leave. He was useless and profane as a clown when trying to make a bit of extra money and the scene where he tries to end it all by hanging is made all the more tragic by the fact he is dressed as 'Mr Chuckles'.

His drunken diatribe before the attempted suicide was a dark highlight of the show. Another that brought tears in the audience.

Emma Dobson was also so believable, as well as powerful, as his long-suffering, downtrodden, yet loyal wife. And youngsters Zoe Fell (Melody) and Kitty Lane (Kylie) did not put a foot wrong as Phil and Sandra's daughters... the sadness on their little faces when the debt collectors struck was heartbreaking.

Young Joe Smith played the couple's son Shane and produced the night's third fantastic performance. He opened and closed the show by talking to the audience. It would have been an achievement for one so young merely to pull off the Yorkshire accent but to put in such a faultless, word perfect performance was astonishing. A star, not just of the future, but of today.

One of my highlights was the relationships between best friends Harry (Paul Coleman) and Jim (Nick Fletcher) and their wives Rita (Linda Smith) and Vera (Colette Buchanan-Gray). Yes the men were going through a hard time, but they still loved the band, the pub... and each other. The women were united in their dismay at their husbands' antics but also in their love with the hapless duo.

The scene when they all get hopelessly drunk and almost go home with the wrong partners was hilarious and played to comedy perfection by all four.

Dominique Spinks (Gloria) and Joe Dickinson (Andy).
Dominique Spinks (Gloria) and Joe Dickinson (Andy).

Not knowing this story beforehand, I had assumed that young lovers Andy (Joe Dickinson) and Gloria (Dominique Spinks) would take the leading roles. Their on-off-on love story is integral to the plot but this show is no rom-com!

I've followed these two since they were youngsters in Act II and they've just got better and better. Andy nailed his role as a fun-loving, slightly irresponsible Jack the lad lothario and Dominique was totally believable as the young lady who returns to town with a job and education.

As if this show wasn't wonderful enough, let me tell you about the brass band that played throughout, including a wonderful 'clap-along' medley at the end. St Nics could not secure a band for this show... so they formed their own!

Amazingly, musical director Tony Fell built it from scratch in just six months and, poignantly, their uniforms were donated by the Murton Colliery Band, who made their final performance in July, ending 134 years of history.

I wasn't going to review this show because, as I mentioned earlier, a colleague already had. But it was just too good not to. After seven years of watching shows at the South Holland Centre, this was simply the best. It will have made Phil Bosworth so proud.



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