Kay Mellor's Band Of Gold - Milton Keynes Theatre (atgtickets.com)
.The quality of a pearl is dependent on the grit in an
oyster and Kay Mellor’s theatrical production Band Of Gold contains enough grit
for a whole bed of oysters, the result being scene after scene of undoubted dramatic
pearls.


Between 1995 and 1997 some 15 million viewers a week tuned
in to gain a glimpse into the tough world of a group of Bradford prostitutes
and their attempts to preserve their dignity, humanity and, indeed, humour under
the trying circumstances of their trade. Before writing the series Mellor spent ten months talking to sex workers
in Leeds and Bradford to find out what drove women to sell their bodies.
For the first time viewers heard compelling and authentic voices from the women
who worked the streets.


Mellor’s theatrical
production returns us to the early 1990s, that period between the capture of
the Yorkshire Ripper and the dawn of internet porn when the hard action was still
on the street rather than at the end of a mobile phone or available at the
click of a mouse. The two acts neatly divide into first, a modern take on the Harlot’s
Progress, how a young woman, through poverty and the selfishness of men settles
for a life on the streets and second a whodunit, when one of the girls is found
murdered but the financial plight of the women means they still have to work .


There are some serious
themes here and each character exemplifies a particular reason why women choose
to embrace the life. That said, he production is never stilted – the issues
come alive through the strength of the characters and Mellor’s clarity of
writing and direction.


The heroin-addicted Rose, played
with brio by Gaynor Faye, is the alpha female of ‘The Lane’  - the red-light area of the city. She is a
born leader and it is she who decides whether a streetwalker can work there.
She has a love/hate/business relationship with the gobby Carol (powerfully
portrayed by Emma Osman), a woman with a financial mind quicker than a
calculator and who only works the streets to be able to provide a better life
for her daughter.



The hapless Anita doesn’t
even consider herself to be part of this world – a part-time chanteuse, she’s
sure to reserve time for her married sugar daddy between other ‘engagements’.
Her chances of finding contentment, happiness and fulfilment? Next to zero. Her
descent is one of the most heartbreaking aspects of the piece.


Into this world comes Gina,
survivor of a mean-spirited and abusive marriage whose attempt to break out of
poverty via selling cosmetics fails leaving her in the talons of  a moneylender who keeps ramping up the
interest with menaces.
Sacha Parkinson is outstanding in this
role. Her surrender to fate is poignant in its despair.


Act 2 opens the door to myriad facets
of toxic and entitled masculinity played brilliantly by an accomplished cast: Andrew Dunn as Barraclough, a pompous councillor
who expects favours; Mark Sheals as George (Anita’s lover), a businessman on
the make who will stop at nothing to make sure he gets the council cleaning
contract on offer and Kieron Richardson who plays Steve, Gina’s husband,
as a seething mass of tenderness, violence and self-pity.



A hat tip, too, to Shayne Ward who plays the principled Inspector Newall, whose desire to
catch the killer is spurred on by his feelings for Carol, with whom he had a
relationship and may be the father of her daughter. It’s an impressive display
of tortured rectitude.



Mellor’s choppy scene
changes are aided hugely by Janet Bird’s set design: Screens bearing abstract
yet recognisably urban scenes shift constantly under the orange sodium street
lights creating a sense of oppression. The seedy pub where the girls gather is
well shetched, too. Never has a poster for a meat raffle carried so much
meaning.


Band Of Gold is a must-see:
thoughtful, emotionally challenging and darkly funny by turns.

 


Band Of Gold is at Milton
Keynes Theatre until Saturday 14 March.