Phil Hopkins, Arts & Travel Editor

Let Band Of Gold Speak For Itself

In watching Kay Mellor’s Band of Gold I was in the privileged position of not having seen the original award-winning TV series or being a member of the cohort of invited, cheering sycophants, often called on to bolster egos and give the perception that something is greater than it actually is.

The so-called ‘World Premier’, which always sounds like a hollow boast unless you are back referencing something like Les Miserables or a production that has already achieved international greatness, was excellent and stands on its own merits without all the bluff, bluster and adjectives heralding its arrival.

Originally aired in the mid 1990’s, this crime drama tells the story of four working girls – Carol, Rose, Anita and Gina – and the heartbreak, humour and tragedy surrounding their lives as they ply their trade on ‘The Lane’.

It was an enthralling piece of drama that held me throughout and what one person at the interval described as ‘bitty and lacking in continuity’, I would call a masterstroke.

The ‘bitty’ element was, in my mind, more a series of self-contained vignettes and as ‘tv brought to stage’ – it felt like a tight, fast-moving edit – nothing was there long enough to bore you, perfect for modern audiences that live for the instant gratification of social media.

Laced with humour and tragedy in equal measure, Band of Gold establishes its characters rapidly: Gina (Sacha Parkinson), the new ‘hustler’ keen to pay off debts; Carol (Emma Osman), the tough nut providing for her young child; Rose (Gaynor Faye), the prostitute who had her child taken by the ‘the social’ at birth and Anita (Laurie Brett), the older working girl in denial that she is a working girl at all, preferring to think of her client George as a boyfriend, despite the fact that he is clearly using her.

There were some great performances and believable characterisations. Emma Osman, as Carol, really captured the hard edge of a woman who cannot afford to take any s**t lest she end up dead in a dark alley, the wonderful Steve Garti as Curly, a man prepared to pay big money to wear pink viledas and watch Carol walk up and down in stockings and high heels, and Mark Sheals as dubious George, content to play ‘boyfriend’ and dupe ‘‘nita’ for as long as it suits his purposes.

The characters were strong and, despite a running time of just two hours, they made a big impact in a short space of time, which is not easy to achieve. However, I think a rapidly moving plot, supported by a series of sub plots, kept everything jogging along, aided, of course, by rapid, slick scene changes.

There were a couple of moments in the drama when the audience audibly gasped, simply because this was a script of its time and out of kilter with modern thinking.

As Gina tells her mum that husband Steve has been knocking her around, mum Joyce (Olwen May) comments: “Well you must have done summat.”

It was a social drama as much as a crime drama. Someone is killed but, whether you are into whodunnits or not, this is a production that will fascinate for a variety of reasons.

It allows you to be a comfortable voyeur of a world that you may want to know about, without ever having to visit it and, cleverly, there is no nudity or overt sex despite the subject matter. Drama at its best.

Band of Gold
Leeds Grand Theatre
Until 14th December