One of the most satisfying feelings in the world: leaving the theatre and having a stupid grin on your face, turning to other audience members and sharing a mutual nod of appreciation, understanding you’ve both just seen something bloody brilliant. There’s something to be said about a piece of work that turns you into a big blob, unable to pick it apart in an intelligent way because all you want to say is…that was really great. End of.
Coal was an accessible, visceral, energetic homage to the men and women in 1980s Britain. Company director Gary Clarke retells the story of so many miners, affected by the reign of all consuming, all round bad apple Thatcher. With a minimal set and a big stage, the cast created a very real sense of the cramped and dangerous conditions miners faced every day of their working lives. This was so well balanced with the energy and passion of their on stage wives. Largely accentuated Yorkshire warmness shone through in the Act 1 – depicting a humorous and energetic morning routine before a day down in the mines. Pots and pans flying around, a scramble for shoes, a quick kiss before the morning starts, it was a brilliant way to introduce us to such hearty characters. The pit woman, recruited from the local towns in which the show tours, rooted the show in its message – Clarke’s sensitive guidance made the participatory element of the piece so heartwarming and full of richness, nurturing women who had never been on stage before, .
The highlight for me, however, was Elenor Perry’s Maggie Thatcher – who could have rivaled any pantomime villain. Too real to be a caricature – her sharp movements were so cutting, so powerful it almost bought me to tears. Clarke’s company should be proud of the work they’re making. The audience reception was a perfect reaction to such an accessible and switched on piece of contemporary dance. Clever in its intent, and a powerful comment on the mining industry and its demise in the rise of austerity.
Photos by Joe Armitage