Review: Brass the Musical, Mountview at the Bernie Grant Arts Centre

My second version of Brass the Musical in a week – Mountview students at the Bernie Grant Arts Centre do an impressive job with this moving WWI musical

“War turns everything on its head”

It’s not often that you get the chance to compare and contrast two contemporaneous productions of the same musical but that is exactly what you can do right now with Brass the Musical. Sasha Regan at The Union Theatre opened her version this week (review here) and now a group of Mountview students are having a crack at it at the Bernie Grant Arts Centre. I was particularly tempted to return to the show as the show’s writer Benjamin Till – an alumnus of Mountview himself – is also on directorial duties.

It was fascinating to see the show for the second time in a week as the approaches by each director offered up intriguingly different interpretations. Till clearly benefits from the resources of one of the UK’s leading drama schools and so is able to conscript a band to meet the demands of his brass-heavy score, fill his stage with bodies and get them to execute some pretty nifty choreography (by Simon Hardwick). The contrast is huge with the Union, where studied intimacy is the watchword even though the company is only fractionally smaller.  

The major difference comes with the music and it is amazing how well it works in both versions. The quartet of Mountview brass players sound gorgeous as stirring melodies strike out and elegiac motifs recur, a constant reminder of the brass band that is so crucial to this community. But where Henry Brennan’s solo piano at the Union pares some of that back, the introduction of trumpets at a few crucial moments is heartbreakingly beautiful, a poignant reminder of what that community has lost. Both equally valid, both bringing tears to my eyes

I also enjoyed seeing alternatives takes on characters that had been so vividly realised for me so recently. Holly Maguire’s superbly assured Peggy suggests a strong comedic future in the making, Elliot Moore and Jamie Jonathan’s pairing on the plaintive ‘I Miss The Music’ was just delicious, Eleanor Reynolds tempered Tats’ innate anger adroitly and Daniel George brought a lovely warmth to the genial Brummie Wilf. And much as I like to say I don’t pick favourites, I couldn’t help but be wowed by Stephanie Callow as the tragic Emmie – by God, she makes you feel…

I left my first performance of Brass thinking it “a powerfully moving celebration of sacrifices made, of service offered, of music itself” and on second, alternative, viewing, I stand by that assertion. And its a mark of the quality of Till’s musical that it can impress on such different scales, both visually and musically. You’ll have to go and see both to see just how much!

Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes (with interval)
Brass the Musical is booking at the Bernie Grant Arts Centre until 17th November

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