Some films capture the public’s imagination to such an extent that they are watched again and again. Some are so popular that stage versions emerge and take on a life of their own. York Theatre Royal is hoping that Brassed Off is one of those plays.
“We did Brassed Off ten years ago and ever since then we’ve been asked, when are you doing to do it again?”, says Damian Cruden, artistic director of York Theatre Royal. “It’s always been on the agenda for when it made sense to do it again.”
This year is the 30th anniversary of the start of the miners’ strike, a bitter confrontation between communities trying to save their towns and livelihoods and a government bent on shutting down an industry it viewed as troublesome and uncompetitive. Although Brassed Off is set in 1992 and focuses on a man desperate to save the colliery’s band and win a national competition, the story resonates with many pits’ struggle for survival and the bleak legacy of an industry in ruin. Indeed, the story of Brassed Off has been widely regarded as a comment on the state of traditional coal mining communities, however far that may be from writer Mark Herman‘s original intention.
“A number of things have collided to make it a good time to do the project, including the fact that this production will go on tour for ten weeks, finishing its run at the Bolton Octagon,” Cruden tells Northern Soul. “The other big element is the notion of community brass bands. There will be local bands for different shows performing on stage. It opens up the possibility for a touring production to be really interesting. It might attract people who might not usually go to the theatre. In some places, people playing on stage may have been involved in the miners’ strike or are ex-miners.”
He adds: “In many respects, the miners’ strike defines Margaret Thatcher’s reign in the same way as the Falklands. In some respects, the miners’ strike has had a far greater effect on how we live our lives and on post-industrial history. There have been so many repercussions.”
There’s always a risk taking a well-loved film (and in particular one which reflects real events) and adapting it for the stage. Has it been a difficult process?
“Paul Allen has done the adaptation and he has been very faithful to the film script,” say Cruden. “I love the film but a live piece of theatre really brings the brass band into it.”
Featuring rousing live music including Jerusalem, Danny Boy, Land of Hope and Glory and Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez, the stage version of Brassed Off promises to be an enjoyable experience. And, according to Cruden, should draw in all ages.
Just as the story of Brassed Off shows people coming together through the communal activity of music-making, so York Theatre Royal has a community role to play in the city of York. Cruden explains: “We are very fortunate that we have the opportunity to engage with the community in creating a programme of works. And we have to have an identity that people like and feel is welcoming. Our role here is a huge part of understanding the role of art and civic identity in the city.
“We are interested in how we benefit our community. We have a pride in that. In many respects I see myself as an artists but also as a civil servant.”
By Helen Nugent
What: Brassed Off
Where: York Theatre Royal
When: February 14 – March 1, 2014 and touring
More info: http://www.yorktheatreroyal.co.uk/shows/Brassed_Off_2013.php#.UvVYx_l_stE