It’s 25 years since Kay Mellor brought her controversial drama, Band of Gold about a group of sex workers in Bradford to the small screen.
It was controversial because the central characters were prostitutes, or as the women refer to each other on the Lane – hustlers.
For those familiar with the TV series, the stage show follows more-or-less the same story of what leads a young woman, Gina (Sacha Parkinson) to start selling sex, for what she first sees as easy money. As Rose, who runs the action on the Lane, jokes: ‘What woman hasn’t slept with a man she didn’t like?’
But the quick-fire banter between friends, Rose, Anita and Carol gives a false gloss to this dangerous underworld of drugs, debt, and mental health problems. Poverty and a lack of independent means for these women fuels a drive for men to finance their lifestyles by any means. And when a prostitute is murdered on the Lane, the vulnerabilities of these otherwise head-strong women is exposed.
Mellor’s writing converts well to the stage in so far as she knows how to grab attention and keep the audience wanting more. She’s a master storyteller and in this dark and gritty thriller she creates space to see different sides to the women, so we come to care about them as people.
The action focuses on Anita (Laurie Brett – Jane Beale in EastEnders); Rose (Gaynor Faye – Megan Macey in Emmerdale), and Carol (Emma Osman – Carly Reynolds in Doctors), with a big supporting cast including former Coronation Street star, Shane Ward as Inspector Newall.
The many scene changes are managed by large sliding glass panels which take us swiftly from a living room to a pub to a pavement of the red-light district and keep the action moving.
The large cast of characters keeps the story true to the original, but at times feels a bit unwieldy for a play. Mellor, who has also directed, brings much of the action to the forefront of the stage and it feels at times like the actors are talking out to the audience rather than to each other. That aside, however, Band of Gold is filled with strong performances from a stellar cast.
Emma Osman brings vulnerability and humour to an outwardly hardened Carol; Laurie Brett, who also has a background in musical theatre, presents a complex character in karaoke singing Anita who is part of the world but sees herself as outside it; Olwen May adds an understated realism to Joyce, who has toiled as a cleaner all her life and is devastated to find out how her daughter is earning a living. And Gaynor Faye (Mellor’s daughter) is almost unrecognisable as mouthy heroin addict and head hustler, Rose. It is a triumph of a performance that gives Mellor’s strong storytelling the rounded emotion it deserves.★ ★ ★ ★