Delivered Dozen

 

 

Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

garnd youth

Delivered Dozen

Grand Arena Youth Theatre

Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton

A miner’s worst nightmares, apart from the obvious roof collapse of course, are flooding and gas, the noxious methane which can suffocate or, worse, cause deadly explosions.

And in 1869 in Brierley Hill, a shift of 13 miners faced both at the Earl of Dudley’s Nine Locks mine. After spending the night cutting coal they prepared to return to the surface only to find their path to the shaft flooded, trapping them underground.

It was the start of a rescue mission lasting almost a week with the Earl bringing in more pumps in an effort to free the men. An estimated 30,000 people had gathered at the pithead, and with hope fading fast, all but one of the men were finally rescued.

And it was this moment of local history which Alex Turner has turned into a play for the Grand Arena Youth Theatre, a play which opens in 1899 in a local pub, the Duke of Sussex, in Stafford Street, Dudley, where George Skidmore, Muggers, one of the survivors was the landlord.

It is a joyous time with two eager young lads on the pull, or at least hoping to be, but so far with a distinct lack of success, and a large crowd drinking, laughing and talking in a well co-ordinated ensemble piece.

George was famous for his storytelling but on the 30th anniversary of his ordeal he was in no mood to talk, so his wife is persuaded to tell a story. She tells the only one she knows – the Nine Locks Ordeal.

And the eager crowd melts into the blackness as we see Mr Plant, the Butty, talking about the ultra-modern, for it’s day, pit with a reporter.

A Butty, incidentally, being a contractor who hired the miners with a contract to produce an agreed amount of coal for the mine owner, a system outlawed a few years after the rescue.

survive

The survivors (l-r) Zachariah Pearson, Stephen Page, George Skidmore, Timothy Taylor, David Hickman, John Hanley, John Holden, Benjamin Higgs, Thomas Hunt; boys left to right Thomas Sankey, Joseph Pearson, Thomas Timmins. Picture: Black Country Bugle

Kirsty Povey’s setting was minimal, a raised dias at the rear to give Mr Plant some authority, a few tables for the pub and the rest black, the blackness of the pit, only broken by sympathetic lighting.

The tale was told with admirable slickness, with a well drilled cast of 50, which is not an easy number to stage effectively but Turner, again, and Fran Richards, the directors have done a good job in ensuring that crowds always look as just that, an interested crowd, a relevant part of the scene, rather than a mob there just to fill the stage.

The miners had split into two groups and we followed George’s crew with Joe Pearson, 14, on his first shift, with his father Zach, Tommy Timmins, also 14, and William Ashman, the only miner to die.

His body was found naked, a few yards from the rescued men, in all probability he had had a mental breakdown and had given up hope and the will to live, hungry, cold, thirsty and in total darkness once the meagre candles had run out.

In Turner’s play there is a more romantic explanation of his mentally unbalanced state, he is seen walking away following a vision of his sweetheart Mary, who he declares has found a way out.

The youngsters carry the tale well, so much so that you start to feel for the characters, silently imploring William not to be so daft, feeling for Mary as the only one of the waiting wives, mothers, brothers and sisters, not to have good news; for her there is no miner returning. The survivors were celebrated as the Delivered Dozen.

Those who survived were Tom Hunt, Ben Higgs, Jack Holden, Johnnie Handley, Tim Taylor, David Hickman, Steve Page, George Skidmore, Zach Pearson, and three lads Tommy Timmins, Tom Sankey and Joe Pearson.

Joe, who is recites The Miner’s Prayer in the blackness of their tomb, had declared he did not want to be a miner all his life, and he survived to realise his ambition, living was to go on to become a preacher.

The youth theatre have created an interesting, original and well produced dramatization of a piece of black country history.

Roger Clarke

22-05-18

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