WeeklyWorker

04.10.2018
‘Easington colliery’ by Paul Oughton

Forgotten communities

Review of Garry Lyons' The last seam, directed by Daljinder Singh

This play about the second-last coal mine to close in Britain, Hatfield Main, features voices from the abandoned and forgotten coal communities. It is a sort of visual radio programme, in so far as it is really a kaleidoscope of words and language. There is a solitary on-stage prop of a pit-head locker and a fallen metal tower, but the rest of the images are essentially conjured up in sound.

There are five characters, but they represent more than just five individuals, sometimes swapping to another persona, or incorporating the stories and memories of other interviewees into one dialogue. I know this because some of my words and analysis are incorporated into the memories and life stories of the characters. Basically though, the bulk of the memories and tales come from Les Moore and his sister, Sheena, her best friend, Brenda, and pitman-cum-community activist Mick Lanaghan.

It is rather like a 3D ‘pub crack’: the tales and memories are hard, gritty, very funny and down-to-earth - but occasionally tragic and heartbreaking. The play will certainly strike a lot of chords in the pit communities and towns where it tours.

Mind you, there is also the inclusion of a cross-dresser, who was not a coal miner - his self-supporting dialogue runs side by side with all the reflections on mines and miners. Some might find this confusing, but presumably it is included to demonstrate that not everyone in a pit village is a miner, or a stereotypical cloth-cap-wearing pitman. His life ran in conjunction with that of the miners, but it was almost like a parallel universe.

One striking inclusion - which is, of course, totally typical of the pit communities nationwide - was the statement from one of the characters that she was a ‘leave’ voter in the EU referendum. She explained how much she resented the liberal left elite telling her she was a “fascist” for believing in a wider form of internationalism than was now the ‘party line’ of much of the liberal left. While this will meet with widespread identification in the core audiences of the pit villages, it will doubtless cause incomprehension among middle class members.

If I had to make criticisms I would come up with two. Firstly, there is too much ‘bad language’, in my view. I say that because traditionally miners do not usually swear and curse in public, but the writer tells me that this is actually how the stories were related. So I guess it is just me then.

Secondly, I do not know who told the writer that Hatfield still had enough coal for 20 years. I laughed out loud at that. Conservative estimates would suggest that it could continue supplying for nearer 1,000 years - although an area director of the National Coal Board once assured me jokingly that, the way Hatfield miners did their work, it would last 2,000 years!

Either way, I think this play will cause a sensation.

David John Douglass

Showings

Friday October 5, 7.30pm: Grove Hall, Stockingate, South Kirkby, Pontefract WF9.

Saturday October 6, 8pm: Jump Club, Wentworth Road, Jump, Barnsley S74.

Sunday October 7, 7pm: Rossington Memorial Hall, McConnell Crescent, Doncaster DN11.

Tuesday October 9, 7 pm: Woodlands Rhino’s, Princess Street, Woodlands, Doncaster DN6.

Wednesday October 10, 7 pm: Askern Miners Welfare Club, Manor Way, Askern, Doncaster DN6.

Thursday October 11 and Friday October 12, 7.30pm: The Peacock, 287 High Street West, Sunderland SR1.

Sunday October 14, 7pm: Stainforth Central Club, Bridge Hill, Stainforth, Doncaster DN7.