When the bookies get in on the act you can bet that something big has caught the public imagination. Back in the mid ‘90s, Kay Mellor’s Band of Gold, so grabbed the attention of the public that bookmakers started taking bets on the identity of the killer in the ground-breaking crime drama. More than 15 million viewers tuned in every week to follow the fortunes of a group of streetwalkers in their battle to survive whilst working in a notorious red-light district. And if that isn’t tough enough, the women are going about their dangerous, daily lives with a killer on the loose. The world stage premiere of Mellor’s own adaptation of Band of Gold is hitting the streets of Milton Keynes (well it’s Theatre anyway) this week. Be prepared as the streets are not always paved with gold.
Gina has just split up with her violent husband. She is trying to survive with her mum looking after her child while she builds up her round as an Avon lady. Meeting Anita and Carol, she realises that she could make more money to pay of the loan she got to buy her samples, and so starts down a road that is definitely not paved with gold. Gina is played by Sacha Parkinson and she gives Gina an innocent air and sweetness. You really want her to win at life. Carol is played by Emma Osman and she is fantastic as the ‘I don’t care about anyone or anything’ pro. Of course, that is simply not true. She adores her daughter and still holds a torch for her ex, a policeman. Emma says of her character, ‘Carol is so strong and feisty and constantly talks about not wanting to be controlled, to be independent and her own woman.’
Anita is played by Laurie Brett, probably best known for playing Jane Beale in EastEnders. However, she is unrecognizable in this role. Her accent, her look, her acting – she is absolutely outstanding. And she can sing - even if it is Karaoke at the local pub. Laurie owned the stage. Her love interest is George, played by Mark Sheals and together they have a good chemistry that makes the show tick. She loves him but he is already married. It’s not an easy life. Laurie says Anita is ‘a working-class survivor who’ll do whatever it takes to get through life. She’s very multi-layered and a really interesting person. The show is gritty and gives an honest portrayal of women who weren’t victims. Yes, they were victims of circumstance but not in terms of their everyday lives’. Rose is in control of the lanes. She says who works and who doesn’t. Rose has a very hard exterior. Played by Gaynor Faye (Emmerdale), she gives Rose the hard edge of what it is like to work the lanes and Gaynor does it brilliantly. I was a little scared of her. And her look was perfect for the time period. Scrunches in her hair and short skirts, she nailed it.
This show boasts a stellar cast. There are great supporting roles from the men too. Andrew Dunn plays Ian Barraclough, Kieron Richardson plays Steve and Shayne Ward plays Inspector Newall. But at its heart, this show is a story about a group of women trying to survive what life has thrown at them. There are moments of humour but be under no illusion, this is a gritty hard drama and the language matches how it would be to work the streets. These women are survivors and that makes this drama a powerful piece that has the audience holding its breath.
They are walking the lanes of Milton Keynes Theatre until 14 March.