Wonderland, Nottingham Playhouse, till 23 February, 4****: Alan Geary




Nottingham Playhouse

Runs: 2h 30m: one interval: till 23 February


Probably the best play about the miners’ strike.

Most plays about the eighties coal strike have been predictably one-sided bundles of Thatcher-bashing cliché – think for instance of John Godber’s Shafted, in Nottingham a couple of years back. But not so Beth Steel’s Wonderland. Making a welcome return to the Nottingham Playhouse, it’s in an altogether different class.

All right, we still get the easy laughs generated by an anti-Thatcher quip or a four-letter word. And the whole package has more than a dusting of that bargain-basement sentimentality de rigueur in plays about coal miners. There’s also of course the (sometimes spoken and never justified) assumption that unskilled manual labour is somehow more authentic than white-collar work.

But all sides of the central argument are presented in a properly nuanced way. Wonderland portrays not only the bitterness of the disputes between miners but the marked differences of philosophy and approach on the government side. And it gives a fair hearing to the case for a shift away from fossil fuel dependence. Moreover, the miners come over as sexist, homophobic reactionaries.

The men in suits are well played. An excellent Robin Bowerman is back as Ian McGregor, the American fixer brought in by Thatcher; and Paul Kemp is also good as cabinet “wet” Peter Walker. There’s a richly comic performance from Giles Taylor as eccentric libertarian Tory David Hart, who was behind much of the government skulduggery. Steel uses only recently unearthed information about dodgy government practice; seems the Battle of Orgreave was deliberately engineered by Hart.

Laughs are to be had from the miners’ side as well. From the start the humour is ribald and earthy. William Travis as the foreman, Colonel, has some outrageously funny lines.

The fine set and sound designs convey something of the claustrophobic and dangerous working conditions below, and a lot more besides. And the miners’ songs, underline the pride, comradeship and interdependence that existed in the coalfields.

Adam Penford directs.


Malcolm: John Booker
Tilsley/Nicholas Ridley/Milton Friedman/Security Guard/Chief of Metropolitan Police: Geff Francis
Jimmy: Joshua Glenister
Bobbo: Karl Haynes
Peter Walker: Paul Kemp
Fanny: Jack Quarton
Spud: Nicholas Shaw
David Hart/Mr Bishop/Chief of Metropolitan Police: Giles Taylor
Ian MacGregor: Robin Bowerman
Colonel: William Travis

Writer: Beth Steel
Director: Adam Penford
Designer: Morgan Large
Lighting Designer: Jack Knowles
Sound Designer and Composer: Jon Nicholls

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