by Beth Steel.
Hampstead Theatre Eton Avenue Swiss Cottage NW3 3EU To 26 July 2014.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Wed 2.30pm Sat 3pm.
Audio-described 19 July 3pm (+Touch Tour 1.30pm).
Captioned 22 July.
Post-show Discussion 22 July.
Runs 2hr 35min One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7722 9301.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 2 July.
Steel on coal goes skilfully behind headlines of the times.
Whether as memory or history, the mid-1980s miners’ strike lives on. Like miners making their way through clay to find coal, writer Beth Steel has to explain a lot about pit procedures and 1980s politics before hitting dramatic gold. This is very much a play of two halves, the first an education to bring the second act’s strike story to life.
Yet loose ends remain. Milton Friedman, American guru behind Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s economic policy, gives his view on the economic situation then is heard no more. The impact of London PC Yvonne Fletcher’s shooting by Libyans is reported for its potential impact on oil supplies (important to maintain power supplies through a long strike), but the issue disappears. And it’s unclear how Scots-born Ian MacGregor, brought in as the hard-man to head the National Coal Board during coming confrontations, becomes so stressed by the enduring battle.
Thatcher famously called miners ‘the enemy within’ and she had strategies planned before war was provoked, with spies and near-military London riot police ready to do battle. Her voice is briefly heard, but not that of the (still alive) opposing commander, miners’ leader Arthur Scargill, whose controversial refusal to ballot miners on the strike is mentioned yet hardly developed.
But it’s a big subject, and Steel has chosen her ground wisely; not the committed areas of Yorkshire, Kent or South Wales, but the East Midlands pits (particularly north Nottinghamshire) which produced the breakaway return-to-work miners’ association, and a particularly interesting strand is how maverick millionaire David Hart was chauffeured to pit-stops in his Mercedes to encourage strike-breaking.
Mining was entirely a man’s world, but the strike wasn’t. Miners’ wives were deeply important, though here receiving little mention, and having no part in the action.
Still, it’s a bold play, boldly produced by Edward Hall on Ashley Martin-Davis’s metallic, pit-dark set, where miners’ headlamps send criss-crossing beams as confusing as events. There’s a more relaxed pace as ministers argue policy. And a moment signifying much when Hart fulfils his promise to find a strike-breaking miner work by employing him as a domestic servant.
Milton Friedman/Bishop/Metropolitan Police Chief: Andrew Readman.
Ian MacGregor: Michael Cochrane.
Peter Walker: Andrew Havill.
Nicholas Ridley/Daniel Hargreaves: Paul Cawley.
David Hart: Dugald Bruce-Lockhart.
Tilsley/Special Branch: Simon Slater.
Colonel: Paul Brennnen.
Bobbo: Nigel Betts.
Spud/Undercover Operative: Gunnar Cauthery.
Fanny: Paul Rattray.
Jimmy: Ben-Ryan Davies.
Malcom: David Moorst.
Newsreader: Jan Leeming.
Metropolitan Police Riot Officers: Edd Muruako, Jack Pike, Guy Remy, Darius Ryan, Jack Silver, Thomas Winsor.
Director: Edward Hall.
Designer: Ashley Martin-Davis.
Lighting: Peter Mumford.
Sound: Matt McKenzie.
Composer/Musical Director: Simon Slater.
Choreographer: Scott Ambler.
Assistant director: Tom Attenborough.