Theatre review - Band of Gold at The Lowry, Salford
PUBLISHED: 15:33 23 January 2020 | UPDATED: 15:33 23 January 2020
Band of Gold is by parts funny and sad, and raises the question of what kind of society we think we live in
When Kay Mellor's Band of Gold TV series first aired in 1995 it achieved an audience of over 15 million people. Mellor stopped writing it after series two, however, explaining that this was too dark a world for her to inhabit. Sadly, for many women, this is a dark world that they are forced to inhabit. Mellor wrote her drama in the 1990's, and learned quickly that there was only one reason a woman ever chose to sell her body - poverty. Life in 2020 is more complicated than in 1990, with sex workers forced into the trade through drugs, grooming and modern slavery, as well as through the desperation of poverty, so Mellor has chosen to keep this stage play setting in the 1990's, allowing her to explore the themes of debt, domestic abuse, mental health and the powerlessness of women at the bottom of the social scale, especially those fighting to keep their children.
You might think, from all this, that Band of Gold is an unremittingly dark and depressing play, but it's not. There are frequent moments of lightness and humour - albeit a little dark - and while there is a murder mystery to resolve in act two, at the core this is a story of female friendship, strength and finding a way through even the darkest of times.
The success of such a tale lies in the cast as much as in the writing, of course, and here the cast are, every one, excellent in their role.
Gaynor Faye, as drug-addicted Rose, the effective madam of the Row, where the sex workers find their punters, is beautifully tough, hard-faced, foul-mouthed and packed with don't-mess-with-me attitude. Her ability to instantly soften when talking about the child she gave up for adoption, and her crumbling upon meeting her, is beautiful to see and gives a glimpse into the reality of these women's lives. Emma Osman, as Carol, shows no sign that this is her first major role; she fills the stage and owns the part, her timing and inflection delivering pathos and laughs by turn. Key character Gina, who is forced into prostitution to repay a loan shark, is played by Sacha Parkinson with an innocence and steel that makes her character - a survivor of domestic abuse desperate to support her child - so believable. Finally, kept-woman and occasional madam Anita (Laurie Brett) has a brittleness that belies her tough exterior and provides both humour and sadness.
Without doubt this play is made brilliant by its female cast, but the men aren't bad either. Shayne Ward doesn't disappoint, and the eternally excellent Andrew Dunn, as the too-friendly councillor Barraclough, is suitably jovial and safe.
Band of Gold is a thought-provoking story that will have you talking it though all the way home - but... I believe Mellor has almost tried to pack too much in. There are little sides-stories - Rose's daughter, Carol's mental breakdown, Carol's affair with a police officer - that either deserved more attention or could have been left out. By giving time to these, the focus on Gina's story was lost. It's as if by trying to tell us everything, she has failed to tell us anything really significant. Yes, sex work is a huge subject, but two hours isn't long enough to help an audience understand the bigger picture, so please let's just focus on one thing and tell a powerful tale that would silence the crowds.
Playing to 25th January: thelowry.com/whats-on/kay-mellors-band-of-gold