Gary Clarke Company
To the strains of Morning Has Broken, the live accompaniment by members of Derwent Brass, saw the beginning of this superb performance with dance, movement and dialogue, the creation of Gary Clarke.
As his talented cast of coal brought to life the struggles, heartache and sheer anger that came about as a result of the miners’ strike in 1984.
A comedic, slapstick opening focused on the kitchen of The Miner’s Wife, T.C. Howard who had clearly taken solace from the chaos of her chores by swigging her tipple from a large teacup as she swore and cursed, proclaiming that, 'a woman's works is never done'. Great athletic interpretation to kick start the show and the lightness was a perfect contrast for what followed.
As the five miners meet up at the pit head to begin their shift, strutting and dancing along the way, they exchange jolly banter, quite carefree and unaware of the fate that is about to change their lives irrevocably. Cutting to the next scene, they are enclosed within the pit cage descending to the coal face, and with clever lighting and the clanking of the lift gate, the atmosphere they share above ground changes dramatically as they dig and sweat to harvest the coal which is, at this time, the lifeblood of the nation.
The camaraderie, friendship and loyalty shared by the men is beautiful in the scene where they take their lunch break, or 'snap'. They play cards, lark around, one does a merry jig and for a few short moments, enjoy a respite from the grim, dusty, claustrophobic confines that permeates every fibre of their being.
Injuries, coal dust, falling pit props are everyday hazards. The creativity, interpretation, sweat, strengths and frustrations flow with dramatic physicality throughout, the stamina of the five miners is beyond incredible.
With fluidity, tension and originality, the contemporary patterns of the dance weave the threads of the storyline with remarkable power. Cue in Beethoven’s 5th to emphasise the gravity of tension and danger that working underground brings when men are always in a situation where death could be just around another corner. One inflates a black balloon which represents the coal dust that fills his lungs, invariably resulting in fatal illness.
Back home after their shift, the womenfolk perform the ritual washing and scrubbing of backs to get their men ready for an evening out at the social club.
So, a night at the disco brings a little light relief and the miners are joined by their wives, mothers loved ones, friends, all played by ladies from local mining communities whose lives were affected by the 1984 strike.
But sadly, as they boogie away their workaday worries, The Iron Lady appears and scuppers their gyrations, delivering a speech that will bring about the disastrous consequences that will spell the end of coal mining and generations of livelihoods, splitting families, and whole communities.
The ensuing battle shows the men along the picket line as an all-out strike is called, when heartaches, hardships, conflict, anger, family squabbles and the complete breakdown of lives is laid bare, showing that the women were affected equally during this difficult time, supporting their menfolk by organising marches, opening soup kitchens and attempting to keep their families buoyant. Loyalties at this time go much deeper than the mine shafts.
The final scene where Maggie Thatcher hauls on a huge length of rope, representing the demarcation line between strikers and scabs, and as the spirit and fight ebbs away from the broken miners, in a last act of defiance they remove their boots and throw them down at her feet. A fitting climax to a show that is billed as none political but, raised a variety of interesting questions in the after show Q & A.
Gary hails from the mining village of Grimethorpe whose Colliery Band provided both the soundtrack and music, as well as the inspiration for the film Brassed Off.
He describes his life as being like that of Billy Elliot. His decision to become a dancer has given him the passion to try and capture a period of British history that seems to be forgotten but is still, sadly, raw and relevant to those who endured the huge changes brought about during this bloody conflict.
Brilliant piece of theatre by talented company. To 10-05-17
Rosemary Manjunath and Elizabeth Smith
The Miners: Alistair Goldsmith, Nicholas Vendange, Beno Novak, Joss Carter and Parsifal James (PJ) Hurst.
Margaret Thatcher: Eleanor Perry
Pit Women: (Derby Community Cast) included Sarah Cooper, Jill Henderson, Alison Loydall and Kate Phillips.