There’s nothing wrong with reviving Alan Plater’s tragi-comic musical play on coal mining, particularly when it provides a few pointers on the history lessons we all failed to learn from the industry’s past.
The closing hymn of this touring production is as much a comment on the state we now find ourselves in, as it is the 200 years of a coal-fired power struggle amongst the mining communities of the North East.
As a joint production between Newcastle’s Northern Stage and Live Theatre production houses it is soaked in regional accents and miners folklore. It also uses all the jokes responsible for the death of variety theatre.
The play was originally conceived back in 1968 and borrows something of the style of Oh What a Lovely War to raise consciousness over the plight of the miner in the same way Joan Littlewood’s earlier work did for the British Tommy.
The main drawback is that the play itself - much like its subject - is now a period piece, even with the updated material provided by Billy Elliott writer Lee Hall.
In its style and even performance, directed here by Sam West, at best it all looks like a halting re-creation of the type of agit-prop theatre that once toured the workingmen’s clubs.
Mixing up drama, music hall, politics and a history lesson demands nimble and highly-choreographed performances, not the take-it-or-leave-it portrayals on display here.
There’s certainly no sense of anybody’s passion for the story they are imparting.
Maybe at the point that the miners’ struggle was updated for the years ’68 to ’84 the whole play could have been trimmed and re-worked over two much snappier acts. As it is there’s just too much to digest in a play that from the outset admits it trades on irony, ambivalence and contradiction. Or does it?
It continues here until Saturday.