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Brassed Off - Derby Theatre Review

Reviewed by Bethany Hill
Disclaimer: ticket was gifted in return for an honest review


Picket lines, strikes and a cost of living crisis. Familiar territory for a contemporary audience, Derby Theatre’s production of Brassed Off returns with its original cast following a hugely successful run in 2015. Based on the 1996 film staring Pete Postlethwaite and Ewan McGreggor, Brassed Off tells the story of a beloved brass band in the mining town of Grimley.

Photo by Pamela Raith

The play tells the story of Gloria who returns to her home town to assess and potentially close the mining pit. Hiding her motive for being there, Gloria finds herself rekindling childhood loves and getting involved with the town’s local brass band. But as strikes and union action increase, so does the pressure of the reality of life for many of the townsfolk and soon conflict, pain and uncertainty plague the town. Can music once again be the thing that unites them?

The show features a strong ensemble cast portraying incredibly relatable and loveable characters. Gareth Williams plays Danny, a veteran of the mines, father to Phil and conductor of the colliery band. Throughout the show, Williams perfectly portrays Danny’s passion for music and we as an audience long for him to achieve his dream of taking the band to the grand finals at the Royal Albert Hall. Near the play’s conclusion, Williams performs a speech about priorities in life and the human condition that left me in tears as it was so moving.

Playing his son is Jimmy Fairhurst. Phil is a miner at risk of redundancy juggling family debt and pride in what he does and through Fairhurst’s performance, we see the character’s painful but slow decline in mental health and see just how easily someone’s life can fall apart around them. His wife is played by Jo Mousley who I’m sure many mothers could relate to; her constant fight to protect her family and her longing for a moment’s peace were presented with nuance and heart. I’d also love to give a special mention to Fraser Fowkes who played their son Shane and in fact launched the whole show with confidence and stage presence, particularly for someone of such a young age.

Photo by Pamela Raith

Outside of the family, the characters of Harry and Jim, played by Howard Chadwick and Lee Toomes, provided both comic relief and snappy one-liners with down-to-earth grit. They encapsulated perfectly the camaraderie of the miners and the conflict they faced at the time of the pit closures. Their wives, Vera played by Lisa Allen and Kate Wood’s Rita, remind the audience that the closures affected far more than the miners themselves whilst again providing witty commentary and made for such easy-to-love characters. Their drunken scene with their husbands in particular showed such warmth and humour.

The final storyline running through the show was the growing love between young miner Andy, played by Thomas Wingfield, and management and surveyor Gloria, played by Seren Sandham- Davies. Wingfield shows Andy’s growing fondness for Gloria with subtlety and we also feel for his growing dispute between his morals about the closure of the pits and his love for his love interest. His warmth towards a young Shane and solidarity with his comrades make him easy to root for. Similarly, it quickly becomes clear that Gloria is on the side of the miners and we are instantly supportive of her battle to keep the pit open.

Throughout the show, one of the most special elements is the music. Featuring music from Derwent Brass, we are treated to live performances of well-loved favourites including Nessun Dorma. At one particularly touching moment in the show, the song Danny Boy brought a tear to my eye. It is clear that these performers love music as much as the characters being portrayed. The staging of the show is mostly simple yet effective, allowing the focus to be on the stellar performances taking place.

If I were to sum up this show in one word, it would be moving. The show perfectly encapsulates the troubles of a period of history whilst also relating it to the struggles faced by many today. It shows the painful yet loving relationships between family, friends and colleagues of the working class and whilst the show has many touching moments, it also doesn’t shy away from the hard topics that were sadly such a big part of life for so many during that period of history and today.

Adapted by Paul Allen and directed by Sarah Brigham, Derby Theatre’s production of Brassed Off tells a brutally honest but heart-warming tale of history, love and hard work. It is playing at Derby Theatre and tickets are available from

 This production does contain references to mental health and suicide. If you need help or support with these themes, support can be found at

Photo by Pamela Raith

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