Winner: UK Theatre Awards - Best Musical Production 2014
City Varieties Music Hall, Leeds
Book, Music and Lyrics by Benjamin Till
Additional Lyrics by Sir Arnold Wesker and Nathan Taylor
Dramaturgy by Philippa Goslett
A new musical commemorating the Great War centenary Commissioned by the National Youth Music Theatre
CAST OF CHARACTERS
LIZZIE - Ruby Ablett
TULSON - Jake Aldridge
EMMIE - Rosie Archer
ELIZA - Laura Barnard
GRIMSBY - Emma Barry
WRIGLEY - Perry Brookes Jr.
WILFRED - Alex Cardall
ROSALINE - Erika Curbelo
TOM - Josef Doughty
ENSEMBLE - Emma Ernest
ENSEMBLE - Matthew Elliot-Ripley
MAURICE - Robin Franklin
TOTS - Sally Hall
ENSEMBLE - Harry Hickey ALF - Ben Jones
BEATRICE - Sandra Kassman
ENSEMBLE - Megan Rose Kennedy
ENSEMBLE - Emily Keston
HENRY - Nathanael Landskroner
TITTY - Hannah Lawson
BICKERDYKE - Huon Mackley
ENSEMBLE - Joanne Maroun TATS - Robyn Mcintyre
GEORGE - Jack Mcneill
WILLIAM - Andrew Nance
HARRY - Tom Ramsay
ENSEMBLE - Jack Reitman
ENSEMBLE - Andrew Smith
Violin I - Natasha Kenealy
Violin II - Charlotte Barbour-Condini Cello I - Katharine Ley
Cello II - William Coulter Double Bass - Sophie Walker
Cornet I / Trumpet / Flugelhorn / Tenor Horn - Zak Eastop Cornet II / Trumpet - Matthew Ward
Cornet III / Soprano Cornet / Trumpet - Matt Capaldi Flugelhorn / Trumpet / Cornet IV - Harrison Williams French Horn / Tenor Horn - Stephen Payne Trombone I - David Cox
Trombone II - James Bluff Tuba - Jonathan Mayers
Percussion - Alice Angliss, Tristan Butler, Ben Varnam Keyboards - Artemis Reed
Director - Sara Kestelman
Designer - Erik Rehl
Musical Director - Benjamin Holder
Choreographer - Matt Flint
Lighting Designer - David Plater
Sound Designer - Andy Graham
Assistant Director - Joshua Val Martin
Assistant Musical Director - Colm O’regan
Production Electrician - Miguel Figuerido
Lighting Operator - Alasdair Stringer
Sound #1 - Charlie Simpson
Sound #2 - Tom Pickering
Wardrobe Supervisor - Anne-Marie Horton
Assistant Wardrobe Supervisor - Jenny Gayton
Wardrobe Assistant - Claudia Vogt
Stage Manager - Kathryn Rosendale
Deputy Stage Manager - Ben Sheen
Book Cover / Asst. Stage Manager - Daniel Newton
Assistant Stage Manager - Harry Pattinson
Stage Crew Coach - Ian Wilson
Répétiteur - Nick Barstow
ACF Drill Instructor - Andy Andrews
Pastoral Care - Rebecca Hazel
Pastoral Care - David Grant
Rehearsal Photographer - Konrad Bartelski
Production Photographer - Matt Hargreaves
Publicity and Programme Design - Richard Blackburn
Press Representation - Marika Player For Target Live, 45 Whitfield St, W1T 4HD NYMT Administrator - Alice Hardy
Production Assistant - Ben Simpson
Associate Production Manager - Noel Smith
Production Manager - James Henshaw
Producer - Jeremy Walker for NYMT
This production was supported by
THE STUART AND HILARY WILLIAMS
CHARITABLE FOUNDATION ARTS COUNCIL ENGLAND
WHITE LIGHT LTD
STAGE SOUND SERVICES
Reviews The Stage
Reviewer: Mark Shenton
...The next week the NYMT took me to Leeds for the world premiere of another musical, Brass, with book, music and lyrics by Benjamin Till. Its deeply textured Englishness is a million miles from the contemporary American idiom of Sondheim and Jason Robert Brown, in a way that reminded me a lot of Goodall, in a good way. Staged in the extraordinary historic intimacy of the City Varieties music hall in Leeds, it dares to tell a serious story of life for those on the frontline of the First World War and those left behind with feeling and ambition.
The NYMT is, under the stewardship of Jeremy Walker, a major incubator of new performing talent but also a commissioner of new writing that pays serious dividends.
UK Theatre Web
Brass, by Benjamin. Till, commissioned by the National Youth Music Theatre is a timely telling of the story of the Leeds Pals, a regiment formed from the young men of Yorkshire, who fought and died in the Battle of the Somme in the First World War. The tale also takes in the lives of their womenfolk at home in Leeds, many of whom worked at the Barnbow Munitions Factory, making shells and ammunition for the men on the front line.
In this version of the story, the Pals are all members of the same brass band, with their conductor, Alf, at the helm.
In their absence, Alf's sister, Eliza, gets her Barnbow allies to learn how to play the men's instruments, planning to play for their triumphant return home. The Battle of the Somme had another destiny in mind, however.
The NYMT have put together an astonishingly complex and large-scale production, with a talented cast of 28, and a 22-strong band for this world-premiere production this week at the City Varieties Music Hall in Leeds. In a very fine twist of fate, the opening of the show features Sandra Kassman as music hall chanteuse Beatrice de Lille, enticing the men of Leeds to enlist for. Kitchener's army onstage at the City Varieties, in exactly the same spot where the same thing happened in real life, exactly one hundred years ago.
The show is a roller coaster of high emotions, excellently played by this cast of young performers, ranging in age from fifteen to twenty- three, many of whom are exactly the same age as the characters they are portraying. Among the many fine performers, special mention goes to Benjamin Jones (Alf) in strong voice, and an accomplished trumpeter to boot, Laura Barnard, as Eliza, who powers her way through some very difficult songs, Rosie Archer, as Emmie, the Barnbow worker who loses her husband, her baby, and finally her life in a heartbreaking storyline, played entirely without self pity, which only goes to make it even more devastating, and a wonderful comic turn from Robyn McIntyre, as the caustic and sarcastic Tats, who shows a very different side to her character on hearing of the death of her brother Morrie, played with charm by Robin Franklin.
Till's story shifts between the ladies back home and the men on the front with ease, helped by tremendous direction from Sara Kestelman, and Matt Flint's choreography is gritty and visceral.
The score is one of the best that British Musical theatre has offered in a while, with soaring melodies, and catchy tunes that will have you humming them long after you leave the theatre. The song Billy Whistle will be haunting me for a good long while yet!
Brass will have you reaching for your tissues, and the final sequence of the show, where the cast all sing letters to their loved ones before the men go over the top is so powerful, I heard one audience member say she was crying so much she needed nurofen! Brass is playing at the City Varieties until 23rd of August, and is not to be missed!
Musical Theatre Review
Reviewer: Mike Tilling
The casualties suffered by the Leeds Pals Battalion on the first day of the Battle of the Somme were appalling. Of the 900 Pals, 750 were killed or wounded. No wonder the National Youth Music Theatre team chose to personalise their narrative when faced with impossible losses like these.
Leeds City Varieties was where many of the Pals joined up in 1914. Watching young people of a similar age to the recruits of a century ago, telling part of the story of the First World War, was an affecting and poignant experience, even before a note was sung.
Benjamin Till (book, music, lyrics) and Sara Kestelman (director) allow no compromise with the youth of their cast. And of course, youth rises to the challenge of professionalism.
The Overture and Prologue set the scene with a soundalike Marie Lloyd and three alluring dancing girls inviting young men to take the King’s Shilling. Immediately the boys are separated off to a training camp and the girls begin working at the Barnbow Munitions Factory. The first two numbers (‘Harry’s Poem’ and ‘Barnbow Lassies’) suggest that girls have much more fun on their own than boys.
The boys are members of a brass band. Their conductor, Alf, is also a spiritual leader and the rest of the boys just feel safe around him.
Ben Jones as Alf possesses a fine tenor voice. Indeed, Till and Benjamin Holder (musical director) are fortunate to have found so many competent tenors among those who auditioned.
Matt Flint (choreography) has done an outstanding job with the boys. Their movement is precise, often aggressive (as befits young men) and tribal. As the boots crash down (‘Billy Whistle’), I feared for the condition of the City Varieties stage.
The fourth number (‘On the Shelf’) introduces Eliza (Laura Barnard). Like Jones, her performance grows as the evening progresses. There may have been better singers in the cast (perhaps Ruby Ablett as Lizzie) and more affecting actors (Erika Curbelo as Rosaline), but when you see a star in the making, you just know it. When she is on stage, she demands your attention.
The set design (Erik Rehl) makes efficient and effective use of the rather limited space as the action switches between the factory and the front. This is well supported by the lighting (David Plater) and sound (Andy Graham).
Of course, there are threadbare moments: the figure of the staff officer who leads the charge from a rear observation post has been Black Adder-ed to death; a number of the songs feel as though they have been designed to climax the show, not move action along; and a blackout, moments before the real ending of the play, only serves to confuse the audience.
There are references to West Side Story (‘When You’re a Pal’) and even T.S. Eliot. But the most impressive lyric is one where Eliza and Wilfred (Alex Cardall) quote Nietzsche to each other. Any show which pulls that off gets my vote.
The York Press
Reviewer: Kate Lock
Benjamin Till, composer of the award-winning A Symphony For Yorkshire and Ebor Vox, a choral work performed for York’s 800th anniversary of the royal charter in 2012, commemorates the centenary of the First World War from a uniquely Yorkshire perspective in Brass.
A new commission for the National Youth Music Theatre, Brass takes the story of the real-life Leeds Pals, a battalion of friends who enlisted to fight in the Great War (many of them were actually recruited at the City Varieties) and links their fictionalised stories with the lively lasses of the Barnbow Munitions Factory in Crossgates, Leeds, where many York women worked.
Dubbed the "Barnbow Canaries" because their skin turned yellow from the TNT they were packing into the shell cases, they faced their own dangers, and not only from the toxic dust. In 1916, an explosion killed 35 women, 11 of them from York. There is a memorial in York Minister and a public grave in York Cemetery names four of them.
The accident isn’t included in Brass, but the risk of deadly sparks does explain the nervousness of the factory bosses when the lasses decide to take up brass instruments to keep their local band going after all the male players enlist for Kitchener’s Army.
The fictionalised band story is a Till creation: he understands "the notes that bind" and the fellowship that making music brings, and it works well as a device for both sets of characters. The second-half opener, I Miss The Music, had me blinking back tears, as did I Make The Shells, Eliza’s (Laura Barnard) moving meditation on those other instruments – of death.
The young actors – ages range from 15 to 23 – never put a foot wrong and give a committed and wholly professional performance, as do the equally talented young musicians, who deliver Till’s challenging score with confidence and precision.
As a brass player myself, I must give a shout-out to fellow York "bander" Matt Capaldi on cornet and to on-stage trumpeter Erika Curbelo (Rosaline), who plays an absolute blinder in the final scene.