BAND OF GOLD
The Alexandra, Birmingham, Monday 10th February, 2020
Kay Mellor’s hit series (which I must confess to never having watched) comes to the stage in this new adaptation. Retaining its 1990s setting, the story puts sex workers at the forefront of the action, making them the protagonists rather than incidental characters. We meet Carol (tart with a heart) on the game to provide for her daughter, who was sired by her copper of an ex-boyfriend; there’s Anita (hooker with a cooker) who rents out the flat her fancy man keeps her in for working girls to use); and then there’s Rose (slut with guts) who rules The Lane…
The plot kicks off when newly-separated Gina (Sacha Parkinson) finds selling cosmetics door-to-door is not bringing in enough dosh to pay off the evil loan shark (a menacing Joe Mallalieu) who keeps turning up. So, with little in the way of soul-searching or agonising, she decides to go on the game – it’s preferable to getting back with her aggressive and abusive husband (a convincingly volatile Kieron Richardson – Ste off of Hollyoaks). At first, things go well for Gina…
A murder mystery emerges, and with all the male characters being disagreeable, to put it mildly, there’s no shortage of suspects. Enter Carol’s ex, Inspector Newall (Shayne Ward) back from exile in Wolverhampton, of all places. Ward is underused – it’s the girls who get to the bottom of things, so to speak. The show has quite a large cast but there’s not enough time to give them more than fleeting appearances.
As tough-talking Rose, Gaynor Faye (off of Emmerdale) is good value and she is matched by Emma Osman’s plain-speaking Carol and, at this performance, Virginia Byron’s increasingly desperate Anita. There is strong support from Olwen May as Gina’s mother Joyce, along with Mark Sheals as George, and Andrew Dunn (you know, him from Dinnerladies) as Councillor Barraclough.
The play touches on subjects like women’s empowerment versus their exploitation, the corruption of businesses and local government, the dangers of working the streets… but there is not enough time to examine any of these things in depth. The shortness of the scenes underlines the show’s origins as television drama. Mellor packs a lot in at the expense of resonance. Nevertheless, the show is instantly engaging and there is a rich vein of bluff Northern humour running through it along with some cracking lines (“He’s got a face like a fart in a trance”). It may be a bit drama-by-numbers, but it’s effortlessly watchable, entertaining fare, although the significance of the title continues to elude me.