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Theatre review

Brassed Off

Brassed Off

King's Theatre, Edinburgh

Neil Cooper

When an unemployed miner dressed in a clown suit attempts to hang himself from the machinery he once worked among, to the strains of a brass band arrangement of Jerusalem, it's a damning indictment of how one of Britain's greatest industries was treated with contempt. It's also an image which takes Paul Allen's stage version of Mark Herman's 1996 film beyond being purely feel-good to something bigger and braver.

Like the film, Allen's play (directed here by Damian Cruden as an alliance between the Touring Consortium, York Theatre Royal and the Octagon Theatre Bolton) is set in the fictional Yorkshire town of Grimley, where, a decade after the 1984-85 miners strike collapsed, the pits are about to finally close. One of the few lifelines for the town is its brass band, run with messianic fervour by ex miner Danny, played by an impassioned yet understated John McArdle. While families become increasingly divided, James Robinson's local lothario Andy falls for Clara Darcy's prodigal girl-made-good Gloria, who may be a fine flugel horn player, but is also in the pay of the bosses.

All this is told through the eyes of Danny's grandson Shane, who, as played by Luke Adamson, looks back at his eight-year-old self before the baton is passed on. Such a heartfelt and vital reminder of recent history shows how the fragile social glue of a community can be ripped apart, but still survive. This is proved by the heroic presence onstage of the Dalkeith and Monktonhall Brass Band, who lend even more authenticity to a fine-tuned piece of intelligent populism that should be seen at all costs.

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