Kay Mellor’s Band Of Gold, Leeds Grand Theatre, until December 14. Box office: 0844 848 2700 or at leedsgrandtheatre.com
LEEDS writer and director Kay Mellor knew there was more life “on the lane” in Bradford to be mined. The result is a Band Of Gold that’s arguably worth even more on stage than her already precious, ground-breaking 1990s’ TV drama about northern sex workers.
For her new story of street life in Bradford’s red-light district of Lumb Lane, Manningham, Mellor has revisited the plot and characters of the first series and the score-writing heft of Dire Streets guitarist and original composer Hal Lindes, while retaining and honing her own brilliant skills of everyday detail made fresh, northern humour, dark truths, huge emotional impact and suspenseful, thrilling storytelling. A big story, both funny and sad, now condensed into two hours.
“They’ll get all the joy and the suspense they had from the television version, but it’s live theatre so it has that excitement to it because it’s unfolding in front of their very eyes” said Mellor beforehand.
Back then, she was an unknown writer, they were unknown characters; they are both well-known now, but still capable of surprises, shocks…and there is still a killer on the loose, but who killed Gina, the naïve, novice sex worker – spoiler alert – is different. So everyone can play detective along with The X Factor winner, Coronation Street star and Madame Tussauds’ waxwork Shayne Ward’s Inspector Newall.
Mellor tells the story of four women, Carol, Rose, Anita and Gina, and the men that use and abuse them as they battle to survive while working in the lane. All life is here: the street pub; the homes; the dark lane; the councillor (ever reliable York actor Andrew Dunn’s Ian Barraclough); the dodgy cleaning contract businessman (Mark Sheals’s George); the chicken factory boss with a fetish (Steve Garti’s Curly); the abusive husband (Kieron Richardson’s Steve); the loan shark (Joe Mallalieu’s “Mister Moore and more) and Gina’s over-stretched mum (Olwen May’s Joyce).
Directing as well as writing Band Of Gold, Mellor has unearthed another gem in Emma Osman, who was born in Leeds, but later brought up in York, where she stood out as one to watch when playing Oda-Mae Brown in Pick Me Up Theatre’s Ghost The Musical in 2014. Playing single mum Carol, she is being billed as “newcomer Emma Osman”, and although she has appeared in Doctors and Snatch, this is indeed her “break-out role” at 25. And what a break-out.
Carol was “the Cathy Tyson role”, but Osman makes it her own, bringing lip, no-nonsense nous, jagged humour, resilience and a strut to a feisty woman who can handle a disinfectant bottle as well as she can deal with men’s demands and the inherent dangers of her work, taking care of herself and daughter Emma.
Carol takes Sacha Parkinson’s Gina under her wing when ends don’t meet up paying off a loan shark by selling cosmetics door to door, having jettisoned punchy, threatening husband Steve from their home. Parkinson is terrific too, introverted by comparison with Osman’s flashy, gobby turn, but deeply affecting.
Mellor’s casting is uniformly excellent, from Andrew Dunn’s typically Dunn deal to Sheals’s repulsive George, while she writes superbly for both the younger and older women. Laurie Brett’s Scottish Anita now sings karaoke hits in the prostitutes’ hang-out pub, wishes her life could be more pink and won’t call herself a call girl, although her sexual favours furnish her home, while she also looks after the girls’ toiletry needs etc at a price. Heart of gold, struggling for the readies, this is life on the edge, but in a different way.
Gaynor Faye’s far-from-sweet Rose runs the street, hard as nail gloss, hooked on drugs, desperately missing the daughter she lost to the social services. Mellor pulls off a heart-tug of a finale, and even somehow infuses humour into the killer revelation, while all the while making serious points about the exploitation of women.
Janet Bird’s set design of blackened sliding doors, painted thickly with street building imagery, adds to the suspense, the sense of danger, especially when allied to Jason Taylor’s lighting and Mic Pool’s sound design, while Yvonne Milnes deserves a medal for her spot-on costume design, especially for Carol.
Kay Mellor’s 2017 stage conversion of Fat Friends into a musical at Leeds Grand was frank and funny, the wonderful Jodie Prenger and the novelty of Freddie Flintoff singing et al, but the fearless Band Of Gold is weightier, more significant, more empowering, more revealing. The gold standard, in fact.