Band Of Gold has a stellar cast, an exciting plot that keeps you guessing until the very end, and takes you on an emotional rollercoaster of hilarity and heartbreak - it's an absolute triumph.
Kay Mellor is, in my opinion, one of the greatest – and most underrated – writers in British television. My own introduction to her work came with recent shows such as In The Club, The Syndicate, and Girlfriends, but she is perhaps best known for Fat Friends (the show that first brought James Corden and Ruth Jones together) and Band of Gold. When I heard that the latter was being adapted for the theatre – and that it was coming to Southampton’s Mayflower Theatre – I simply couldn’t miss the opportunity to see it.
Band of Gold first aired on TV in 1995 and was regularly watched by around 15 million people. It tells the story of a group of women who fall into hard times and end up working as prostitutes. The first act tells the story of Gina, a young mother being hounded by a loan shark. Struggling to pay off her debts, she meets Carol and Anita, and begins to consider the sex industry as her best option to get enough money to support her daughter. Together with Rose, who is in charge of ‘the lane’, these women enlighten us as an audience on the more human side of this taboo industry. The second act, however, has an explosive twist, and the play transforms into an intriguing whodunnit drama.
I have to say, I’ve been to several shows at the Mayflower over the years – it’s a truly wonderful venue – but this is the best production I’ve ever seen there. The cast were all outstanding. Sacha Parkinson (who has appeared in Coronation Street and My Mad Fat Diary) was brilliant as Gina, and it was difficult to not become emotionally invested in her struggles, particularly in terms of her relationship with her ex-husband, played by Hollyoaks star Kieron Richardson. Emma Osman, who played Carol, is definitely a rising star to watch. Her comedic timing was impeccable and had the audience in stitches, and yet in her most raw and vulnerable moments her performance was incredibly moving – similar can be said of Gaynor Faye’s Rose, who is a real highlight of the show. Laurie Brett is best known as EastEnders’ Jane Beale, but also won a celebrity special of the BBC singing contest All Together Now – her role as Anita allows her to show off these talents. I was also particularly excited to see X Factor winner Shayne Ward, who proved himself to be a brilliant actor during his time as Aidan Connor in Coronation Street – he played his part perfectly, but I only wish he could have been in it more.
A couple of times in the show, the women joked that their lives bore little resemblance to that of Julia Roberts’ character in Pretty Woman. There is little glamour in their world – each of these women has their own story of hardship and tragedy, evoking sympathy as we get to explore the reasons that might lead somebody into sex work. When benefits aren’t enough to make ends meet, and there are limited job opportunities beyond cleaning, what is there to do other than borrow money, and, by extension, how does that get paid off? However, their strength and determination to support their children or to fall in love are laudable, and characteristic of a Kay Mellor drama. These women and the supporting male characters are relatable, and the complex plot lines that intertwine them all are transfixing. It’s like watching a TV show on stage: one that you could binge-watch for hours on end.
This is absolutely a must-see if you get the chance. It’s the world premiere of the play, and I can only hope it gets another run in the future – it is hilarious and heartbreaking in equal measure. There’s so much more I’d love to say, but the cast themselves requested that we keep details the plot under wraps, and I can see why: the twists and turns make it all the more exciting.
Band of Gold was performed at Southampton’s Mayflower Theatre from 4th – 8th February. You can find remaining tour dates across the country here.