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BRASS in Concert

Musical Director: Harrison Williams
The Old Rep Theatre
Birmingham
Monday 20th February

The visual metaphor of an inverted Union Jack flag flying above the stage in this one-off student led version of Benjamin Till’s ‘Brass’, was a subtle reminder that at the end of the ‘Great War’ it was the notion of Empire, not just that of engrained Victorian social norms, that had been irreversibly turned upside down.

Mature appreciation

Produced and conducted with mature appreciation by Harrison Williams, who took part in the original production and who subsequently initiated this splendid version as part of his final year studies at Birmingham Conservatoire, it also showed that beneath the rather typecast stereotypes of the storyline, there was a deeper understanding to the historical outcome of the charnel house slaughter of a generation of men on both sides of the trenches.

In contrast, their men, as they march hopelessly to their deaths, will never grow old; never again to play their instrumentsIwan Fox

The emotive power of ’Brass’ is to be found in the wit rather than the pathos of the writing - the evocative musical score adding greatly to the sense of atmosphere as we juxtapose between the ‘Pals Regiment’ of the members of Hyde Park Brass Band - the doomed ‘band of brothers’ - and their ever resourceful wives and girlfriends at their factory in Leeds. 

It is they whose futures will forever be changed by their workplace ‘battles’ to form their own band - an optimistic musical link they wish to create with their loved ones in the muddied, bloodied fields of France through the playing of ‘brass’ rather than through the production of brass shell cases.

In contrast, their men, as they march hopelessly to their deaths, will never grow old; never again to play their instruments.

Great War stereotypes

You can therefore forgive the rather heavy handed narrative that encompass just about all the Great War stereotypes - from the under-age recruit shot for ‘cowardice’, to unrequited love, unfulfilled futures, needless sacrifice and broken-hearted loss, as the actors give splendidly animated performances that bring rather one dimensional characters to life.  

The music (which took a little while to find its balance with the actors who were sometimes swamped) mirrors the emerging realities of war – from the triumphant and optimistic to the desperate and melancholic. 

Tellingly, there is no happy ending - no ‘Brassed Off!’ pyrrhic victory. The Union Jack flag remains upside down.

Iwan Fox



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