WONDERLAND: Beth Steel.
Runs: 2h 30m: one interval: till 24th February.
Performance times: 7.30pm (matinees 2.30pm Sat 24th, 1.30pm Thurs 15th)
Review: Alan Geary: 13th February 2018.
Best play so far about the Miners’ strike.
This, the latest of a longish list of plays about the 1984-85 Miners’ Strike, might well be the best. Most of the others have been tedious, cliché-ridden and one-sided assaults on Margaret Thatcher full stop.
But Beth Steel’s Wonderland is different. For sure, it retains a dash of that cheap sentimentality by now almost obligatory in plays about coal miners; and that unspoken assumption that hard manual labour is somehow more noble than pen-pushing. But it presents all sides of the argument – there were more than two – in a properly nuanced way. It 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 change.
The men in suits are well played. Ian McGregor, the American fixer brought in by Thatcher, is Robin Bowerman; and Matthew Cottle is also excellent as cabinet “wet” Peter Walker. And there’s a richly comic yet realistic performance from Jamie Beamish as eccentric libertarian Tory David Hart, who was responsible for much of the skulduggery on the government side – Steel makes use of information about illegal government activity which has only recently come to light.
A lot of laughs are to be had on the mining side as well. From the start, when two men pause in their work covered in nothing but coal dust and their underpants to trade remarks, the humour is ribald and earthy. Deka Walmsley as “Colonel”, the foreman inducting two young newcomers to the work underground, has some outrageously funny lines in between the four-letter words.
Wonderful set and sound designs convey something of what it’s like to be in a descending cage, the claustrophobic and dangerous working conditions below, and a lot more besides. And the miners’ songs, which have a lot of the quality of those Deep South plantation spirituals, underline the strength of comradeship and interdependence that existed in mining.
This is an encouraging start for Adam Penford as Nottingham Playhouse’s new Artistic Director.
Malcolm: Chris Ashby.
David Hart/Mr Bishop/Chief of Metropolitan Police: Jamie Beamish.
Bobbo: Tony Bell.
Ian McGregor: Robin Bowerman.
Peter Walker: Matthew Cottle.
Jimmy: Joshua Glenister.
Spud: Harry Hepple.
Tilsley/Nicholas Ridley/Milton Friedman/Security Guard/Chief of Metropolitan Police: Nicholas Khan.
Fanny: Jack Quarton.
Colonel: Deka Walmsley.
Director: Adam Penford.
Designer: Morgan Large.
Lighting Designer: Jack Knowles.
Video Designer: Timothy Bird.
Composer/Sound Designer: Jon Nicholls.
Movement Director: Naomi Said.