When Kay Mellor brought her successful TV series Fat Friends to the stage two years ago it must have whet her appetite to take more of her collection of hits from the gogglebox to the boards.
The Leeds born writer’s latest incarnation to be transformed for the theatre is Band of Gold which is currently making its premiere run across the UK.
Back in the early Nineties the crime drama dominated our screens with over 15 million tuning in each week glued to the story of Gina, a young mum driven into selling her body to pay the bills and ward off a slimy loan shark. It shone a light on the harsh reality of prostitution in a time when Hollywood was making it look like a fairy-tale in Pretty Woman.
When Gina is found murdered, the women who work ‘the street’ join forces to find out ‘who-dunnit’ and what ensues is a gripping story which leaves you guessing right up to the end.
At the helm of the play are Gina’s closest ‘colleagues’; matriarch and ‘boss’ of ‘The Lane’ Rose, tart with a heart Anita and sassy straight talking Carol – three strong women joined together by their plight to keep their head above water and stay safe in an era post ‘Jack the Ripper’.
There’s a plethora of famous faces in the cast, most from some of the UK biggest soaps; Emmerdale, Coronation Street and Eastenders. Gaynor Faye commands the stage as Rose and puts in a gritty performance from start to finish.
Faye is well supported by Laurie Brett who shows off some brilliant acting and fine vocals as Anita, but it is relative newcomer Emma Osman who steals all the best lines as Carol and delivers them with great timing.
Sacha Parkinson, as Gina, dominates the first half of the play until her timely demise and puts in a strong performance which leaves you heartbroken at the situation she has found herself trapped in.
For female actors these are dream roles, the women in Band of Gold are not one dimensional (as often is the case) plus the script is clever, emotional and sprinkled with Northern humour. The transformation to the theatre works really well and, with Mellor at the helm both in adapting the writing for stage and directing, it certainly retains the essence and the quality that made it so popular with TV audiences.
The men definitely take a back seat in this production but it’s not to say they don’t put in a good performance. Each of them have significant roles to play – in particular Kieron Richardson who is both solid and at times scary as Gina’s abusive husband Ste.
Shayne Ward plays the role of Inspector Newall with an ease which might see him don more copper roles in the future and Anthony Dunn as dodgy Councillor Barraclough has the audience in a constant battle to figure out if he’s naughty or nice.
As the play sticks to the original 90’s setting it means the costumes and styling must follow, designer Yvonne Milnes has done a great job creating a visual throwback to the era showing key fashion trends such as scrunchies, bomber jackets, denim skirts and crop tops. The set is kept minimal, letting the acting do the real talking.
Janet Bird has created a series of tall screens with a monochrome depiction of ‘the streets’ which slide in and out to take you to different locations. This effectively splits the scenes down almost as if they are mini ‘episodes’ and is a clear nod to the shows original form.
There’s certainly a lot to cram in in Band of Gold as Mellor attempts to turn what was originally a six-part series into a two-and-a-half-hour play. It’s definitely a pacy result and, just like a TV episode, leaves you hanging in anticipation for the next instalment as you reach the interval – although luckily with this you only have to wait 15 minutes until Act Two.
With a full house and tickets selling fast for the tour I’m betting it won’t be long until another of Kay Mellor’s delights will be making its stage debut. I’m putting my request in for it to be In The Club…go on Kay, you know you want to!
Band of Gold runs at The Lowry, Salford until 25th January