Saturday 27 August 2016

Brass - Review

Hackney Empire, London


Music, lyrics and book by Benjamin Till
Additional lyrics by Nathan Taylor and Sir Arnold Wesker
Directed by Hannah Chissick

The Leeds Pals before going over the top

Two years after its premiere in Leeds, the National Youth Music Theatre's production of Brass arrives at the capital's Hackney Empire. And yet again, under the aegis of this remarkable organisation, the quality of acting, song and music is magnificent.

Brass tells a powerful story of the First World War. The Leeds Pals, some 300 or so infantrymen many of whom back home comprised a brass band, were tragically killed in the first day's fighting on the Somme. But rather than just focussing on our Boys at the front, Brass also tells of the munitions girls back home. As well as hearing the soldiers' stories, the show also weaves its lightly threaded fiction through the true lives of the Barnbow Girls who worked in an armaments factory just outside Leeds and who were famous as singers. In the show they take up their boys' brass instruments, forming a band in the factory as a tribute to their loved ones fighting in France.

Using a smattering of both romantic and sibling relationships between the city's boys and girls we share the hopes and tragedies of both, with the show, as well as telling of the battlefield horrors of the Great War also sensitively highlighting the often unsung sacrifices made by women. Long before the era of Health & Safety legislation, those on the production lines suffered debilitating injuries handling the highly toxic components of weaponry.

The real strength of Brass however lies in the impressive performances that Hannah Chissick has coaxed from her company, fuelled of course by the poignancy of knowing that the average age of the NYMT cast would have been similar to that of the young women and men that the story tells of, with Jason Denvir's simply effective designs perfectly setting the scenes.

The whole company, and under Alex Aitken's baton the orchestra too, are fabulous and NYMT should be rightly proud of what is being performed here, even if it is only for two short days. Amongst a multitude of fine performances there are a handful of standouts, with Ben Mabberley, Crispin Glancy, Kitty Watson and Laura Barnard offering perhaps the night's most memorable work.

NYMT truly represent a glimpse of some of the best of what our young people can achieve, be it on stage, in a band or in the myriad of technical areas that make up a show. Take a journey to Hackney today and be inspired by the excellence that is this remarkable company.

Runs until 27th August
Photo credit: Konrad Bartelski

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