Brass at Union Theatre
Brass was commissioned in 2014 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the start of the Great War and it has come back as we reach the centenary of the Armistice. It’s a story that many may not be aware of, concerning veterans in the North of England, the reason for which this play is an important artefact of our memory of the Great War.
Based on real people, Benjamin Till’s work follows both men and women. The energised young men form the 15th Battalion, better known as the Leeds Pals, preparing to head to France for the Battle of the Somme of which they had the grimmest experience. The strong-willed women are the Barnbow Lasses, contributing to Britain’s combat efforts as munitions factory workers. The two narrative threads both run in parallel and cross over as the Yorkshire people’s lives intertwine.
Despite the bleak history, Till injects a surprising amount of humour in his cultivated dialogue, especially with tasteful uses of words like “muff” and “titty” – the latter happens to be one of the characters’ names. The musical numbers alternate between cheerful and poignant but one thing remains consistent and that’s the ensemble’s exuberance. Till richly draws each character of both camps so that not only do we walk away remembering the Pals and the Lasses but the sort of individuals who were part of those valiant groups. Tom. George. Peggy. Eliza. Several more.
The biggest strength of Brass, which is the cause of why the characters, costumes and words are so strong, is that the subject matter has evidently been meticulously researched by Benjamin Till for years. It feels like a lived-in experience watching Brass, as opposed to somebody’s educated guess of what happened. It’s platitudinal to describe every war text as “important” but the great effect this production has on you is indelible.
Photo: Mark Senior
Brass is at Union Theatre from 31st October until 24th November 2018. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.