Review by Susan Darlington
Morning Star | 02 November, 2016
Lawrence Batley Theatre, Huddersfield
Staged to mark the 30th anniversary of the miners’ strike, COAL is a reworking of a piece originally conceived by Gary Clarke in 2009.
His decision to expand the dance theatre production is only partly warranted, as several sections would benefit from editing.
It opens with a confusing slice of domesticity that sits uncomfortably with live music from The Brighouse & Rastrick Band.
And a party that has a community cast handing out biscuits to the audience does little more than create a warm-hearted interlude that splinters the narrative.
These scenes are intended to portray the clearly delineated gender roles and the strong sense of community spirit, as well as injecting some light humour. It’s not until it looks at the grittier aspects of pit life, however, that the production succeeds.
The physical hardships and camaraderie of the five miners is powerfully shown as their contorted bodies writhe and twist in sweat-soaked unison, a burst balloon being used as a metaphor for their dust-filled lungs.
The use of subterranean lighting and an industrial soundscape, produced with noise sourced from The National Coal Mining Museum for England, creates a palpable sense of claustrophobia. Yet the section is too long and loses impact.
The converse is true of the strike itself, which is too hastily drawn to make any lasting impression. This is despite some genuinely moving scenes, including the pit women being shown physically supporting their husbands as they wither under the gaze of a cartoonish Mrs Thatcher (Eleanor Perry) and a monologue from TC Howard that illustrates how the wives were empowered by the struggle.
Clarke is clear that COAL is a personal rather than political piece of work and while it ends on a note of defiance its celebration of community spirit never quite captures the power of the union.
Touring until December 8, details: coaltour.co.uk.
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