I must admit that when I see that a television programme has been transferred to the screen or stage my blood runs cold as they seldom adapt very well. Thankfully Band of Gold is in the minority and has stood the transformation from the telly to the stage extremely well.
The story revolves around three women who work the red light area of Bradford in the early 1990s but the arrest and imprisonment of the ‘Yorkshire Ripper’ ten years earlier is still fresh in their minds. From my thirty odd years working in Bradford I seem to recall that it was about this time that working girls were being attacked on a regular basis by the inhabitants of the Lumb Lane area in an attempt to ‘persuade’ them to move to a less residential part of the city to ply their trade. A campaign which eventually succeeded, so this was not the safest of working environments. They are joined by a young woman, Gina, who is struggling to pay off her debt to a loan shark after being unable to cope having kicked out her abusive husband thus trying to raise their child on her own. She gets a job as an Avon rep which is when she stumbles across Carol, a prostitute, whilst selling her cosmetics door-to-door. Seeing this as a way to make the quick money she needs to pay off her rapidly mounting debt she becomes one of the girls who work ‘The Lane’.
She is introduced by Carol to two of her fellow sex workers in Anita, who doesn’t see herself as a prostitute as she has a regular customer who she calls her boyfriend, and only ‘helps the others out’, and Rose, a hard-as-nails, heroin-addicted woman who rules The Lane. There is also Joyce, Gina’s mother who is unable to devote any more time to help with the raising of her granddaughter thus stymieing any chance of Gina doing extra hours selling make-up, hence influencing the career change.
Apart from the scenes of physical and mental abuse heaped on Gina by her husband Steve and the loan shark, Mr Moore, in the first half there are a lot of humorous parts which outnumbered the dark ones many times over. There was also the ‘slap in the face moment’ speeding you back to the early nineties when Joyce, on being told by her daughter about the full extent of the abuse meted out to her by Steve said, ‘Well you must have asked for it’.
The second Act is when things get a little darker as each of the suspects’ secrets are revealed. It also heralds the appearance of Inspector Newall who is charged with solving the case of Gina’s murder which ends Act One. Just as the women’s characters were fairly stereotypical, so were the men’s. There is George, who is a self-made businessman and the regular customer of Anita as well as being the employer of Joyce as a cleaner in his factory. Mr Moore is the heartless, bullying loan shark, Steve, the abusive husband, Ian Barraclough, a local councillor not averse to sex sessions with the girls, and the mysterious Curly who suddenly appears at the pub frequented by the girls but just sits quietly at the bar. I have no problem with stereotypes they get the audience on the same page and are a great vehicle for cranking up the suspense. It is also in the second half when Curly’s fetish is revealed which involved black stockings, stilettos and pink rubber gloves. This had the theatre in uproar.
As you would expect from a Kay Mellor work, the dialogue is sharp as a tack and the scenes brilliantly observed. If I have one criticism it is that the male characters are made out to be what they are because they are either inherently corrupt, perverted or just downright nasty, whereas all the females are victims of circumstance. There was not even an explanation for Curly’s predilection but I am sure that Freud would have linked it to his mother. I have no problem with this either as there has to be goodies and baddies but I wonder how a play written by a man with the roles reversed would have been received. Just saying.
Now to the acting. All of the women were superb, Gaynor Faye as Rose looked like a cross between Cher and Tina Turner in their pomp but with the attitude of Mike Tyson in his – a woman not to be crossed. Laurie Brett as Anita had the hardness of experience tempered by the vulnerability of someone who was lovestruck whilst Emma Osman’s Carol was the level headed businesswoman with a plan to start a legitimate enterprise at some stage. Olwen May played Gina’s middle-aged mother trapped in a demanding but loveless marriage who could not believe that her daughter was capable of selling her body.
As I said, all of them were brilliant but Sacha Parkinson as Gina was the pick of the bunch for me. True, we only saw her for the first act but she transformed from ‘respectable’ mother to enthusiastic sex worker with aplomb. It could have been that she was not being overtly sexual and so had an air of mystery about her but she was no shrinking violet either when duty called. Although only appearing briefly but in a key role, Shareesa Valentine as Collette showed both inner strength and vulnerability.
As for the men, Kieron Richardson as Steve was what you would expect of an abusive husband, ultra violent one minute and contrite the next. Joe Mallalieu the loan shark Mr Moore oozed sleazy charm and menace in equal proportion whilst Mark Sheals was perfectly cast as George, the gruff, no-nonesense businessman who was a nightmare to work for and showed his affection through his wallet. Steve Garti was Curly, the enigmatic stranger at the bar who fell for Gina but ended up playing out his fetish with Carol. To say that he did this with enthusiasm would be understating the case. The ever reliable Andrew Dunn gave life to Councillor Ian Barraclough another nouveau middle class Northern male who didn’t suffer fools gladly. Excellent. Sadly, the one person I though punched below his weight was Shayne Ward as Inspector Newall. It was his role to investigate the murder in the face of hostility from the female characters and so was pivotal in its solution but I found him to be rather stilted with a limited range of expression and emotions. Again, a subplot demanded a certain amount of tenderness from him which I found to be missing.
Not only did the wonderful Ms Mellor write the play but she also directed it with great skill. I do find that the modern way of doing things a little irritating and the constant scene-shifting had this effect after a while. I suppose that in any play where the action moves from place to place and back again there is always going to be problems but the stagehands must have been shattered by the end of the night. Apart from that small gripe the settings were well conveyed and the way in which the characters were placed on stage during their scenes and when they were acting as part of the ensemble was superb, especially by having Curly sitting in an armchair with a large wrap around back facing away from the audience when it was his big scene. Everyone responsible for the lighting, sound and action deserve fulsome praise as well.
My final observation is of the audience. At some stages of the play I was unable to believe that we were in 2019 rather than 1919 with the gasps and guilty titters when something a little risqué was said or done. There were a lot of graphic references to various sex acts which at one point I thought would require the services of an ambulance for the more sensitive watchers. I can just imagine some of my fellow attendees going home to live the sex lives of Howard and Hilda from Ever Decreasing Circles or the couple in the Victoria Wood song Let’s Do It.
Whatever your attitude to getting jiggy with it I can highly recommend this play, it is one of the best comedy thrillers that I have seen at the Grand but don’t take my word for it go and see it for yourself, and why not wear matching sweaters?
Band of Gold is at Leeds Grand Theatre until Saturday 14th December
Tickets are available at leedsgrandtheatre.com or by calling the Box Office on 0844 848 2700
All photographs supplied by Grand Theatre.