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Quick Change Review: The Band Plays On

“Ooooh, I didn’t know they were from Sheffield!” I smile, as I reposition myself on the sofa to lean further towards the television.

I acquire a sudden affinity with a city less than an hour up the road from my hometown of Leicester, but one I never really frequented less the Meadowhall shopping centre and the FlyDSA Arena for a pop concert.

“I never knew that!” I profess, multiple times as I watch The Band Plays On, a new play conceived in lockdown by Sheffield born writer, Chris Bush, with wonder and a newfound appreciation for the city just up the road, really.

Performed at the famous Crucible Theatre, with direction by Robert Hastie and Anthony Lau, The Band Plays On is a handwritten love letter to the Steel City. The cast: Anna-Jane Casey, Maimuna Memon, Sandra Marvin, Jocasta Almgill and Jodie Prenger, deliver wonderful monologues punctuated by powerful songs by local artists.

Classics from the likes of Arctic Monkeys, Jarvis Cocker and Def Leppard weave together the tales of resilience and community that ebb and flow through the gritty, honest recounts of societal, economic and political change that the city has overcome.

It goes without saying, that the musical renditions are gorgeous. Five formidable performers really deep dive and invest in the heart of the play.

Images by Chris Saunders

Dressed humbly in boilersuits, DMs, striped tees and cut off blue jeans, the women each take turns to step to the warm glow of the spotlight. They cradle cups of tea as they break the fourth wall confiding in their relationship breakdown, explore the empty venue’s backstage areas as though it’s a football stadium and they’re about to kick off on the biggest game of their life, and transport us to dark Armageddon bunkers in the 1980s. These women are strong women; women inspired and inspiring with their messages for the future.

Their stories are told with the same joy as when you suddenly remember a memory that you can’t believe you had allowed yourself to forget. A real-life lightbulb moment.

Every actress takes their story in their stride. Emotion washes over their face as the words roll around their mouth and they retell stories as eloquently and passionately as though they are their own family realms – and in many ways, they are. They are telling the stories of local people transcending generations. With that, comes obvious pride.

Bush’s monologues imaginatively paint the picture of a city defined by its people and their collective strength. From UK elections to local tragedies, sporting victories to societal prejudices; local history comes to life.

The tales are savoured like sugared sweets being rolled from cheek to cheek to collect every part of the nectar. Whilst they start smooth, the sweet develops sharper shards and grittier terrains. Desperate to explore the taste further, you keep sucking. Rolling these sweets in their mouths, every actress delivers their story with emotive eyes and giddiness to quickly recall details and serve justice to its roots - through every high and low.

The writing is sublime; Bush captures the beauty of the everyday. Whether it’s the joy that comes from a moment of understanding with your father, or the shared secret of getting a cone of chips before tea; regional dialect and raw, honest recollection creates gleeful comfort – often recognised as Northern charm. On the flipside, The Band Plays On documents heartbreak, grief and frustration and retaliates with hope.

Image by Chris Saunders

The Band Plays On doesn’t only share stories from a working-class city. It shares deep-rooted values that have defined generations, rightfully proud of their home for what it has overcome and achieved. It shares squishy family values, cheeky grins, and fondness of its humbled history. It shares a vibrant arts scene to be celebrated much further afield than South Yorkshire.

The Band Plays On is available to watch via Sheffield Theatres until 28th March.


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