by Bryony Lavery.
Crucible Studio Theatre To 22 November 2014.
Runs 1hr 30min No interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 20 November.
Hitting home where it still hurts.
Thirty years ago, as things flared-up, striking miners and their resolute wives declared they’d never let burning fury against relatives or neighbours who let down the cause flicker-out. Bryony Lavery’s play shows that determination still in force.
It’s one of several 30th anniversary plays about a strike marked-out as a struggle between opposing political visions of society seen in the tough minds at the top, union leader Arthur Scargill and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
The strike has been dramatised this year in Beth Steel’s Wonderland (Hampstead Theatre) and Boff Whalley’s We’re Not Going Back (toured by Red Ladder). Whalley focused on the sense of independence the strike brought to coalfield wives, and so – in a more complex, demanding manner – does Lavery.
Queen Coal is set nowadays. Justine returns to Yorkshire from London where she has joined more modern political action, while back home the strike still fuels sister-in-law Maggie’s rage.
Amid the tension between friendship and opposed paths, Justine’s ex-husband Ian seems comparatively calm in exchanging mining for softer if less prosperous domestic activities, as David Hounslow contrasts a powerful physical presence with Ian’s mild manner.
The rift made in the rich seam of friendship by the women’s responses in the eighties is expressed in Kate Anthony’s Maggie, a slab of coal-faced certainty, while Julia Ford’s Justine flickers around the stage in line with her more flexible mindset.
The audience sits round, having entered via a mocked-up mine entrance, mostly distanced behind a low wall at different heights, though some sit round the stage-edge on sofas which contrast a stage evoking the fires of hell, domestic elements mixed with suggestions of a coalfield – home and pit made up these lives – intensified by Jason Taylor’s moody lighting.
Maggie’s aware of the irony of sharing a name with the hated Prime Minister, whose effigy is due to be burnt on the local bonfire. It’s a forcefully written, if underlying schematically forced play, directed by Robert Shaw Cameron to evoke coal-dust in the atmosphere, an aptly tough celebration of the scars created for at least a generation by the great industrial conflict.
Maggie: Kate Anthony.
Justine: Julia Ford.
Ian: David Hounslow.
Fleur: Amy Noble.
Kelly Laura Hobson.
Anwar: Murj Shah.
Director: Robert Shaw Cameron.
Designer: Max Jones.
Lighting: Jason Taylor.
Sound: Sebastian Frost.
Assistant director: Peter Bradley.
Assistant designer: Ruth Hall.