Take a dash of Oh! What A Lovely War, add a dollop of Brecht, sprinkle with a Billy Elliot style narrative and season with a highly-fraught political topic to get a recipe for a near perfect piece of political theatre. Or for one that Northern Stage and Live Theatre made earlier, go and see Close the Coalhouse Door.
Based around the history of the pits and pitmen (or miners for southern folk), Close the Coalhouse Door is a pithy and poignant play that loosely weaves together a plot about a family celebrating their grandparents’ golden wedding in 1968 with an entertaining, yet factually accurate, timeline of the British coal industry.
Not a particularly entertaining subject, you might say? Well, that’s exactly what I thought as I entered the theatre. However, Northern Stage and Live Theatre have created a Horrible Histories for adults. Ridiculous caricatures, stand-up comedians, songs, dances and even ventriloquism all flow together to give a pitman’s perspective on the miners’ union. The play takes on a cabaret feel as the actors take on multiple roles and interact with the audience.
The cast works as a fluid ensemble, and it is a credit to them and Samuel West’s direction that is hard to pick a stand-out performance. It must be said that Paul Woodson gives a heartfelt portrayal of a pitman stuck in a dying community, whilst Nicholas Lumley, Chris Connel and David Nellist are all hilarious to watch.
A stark set based around a revolving house, flanked by metal towers and drills, is innovatively used and it’s clear that designer Soutra Gilmour and the director must have worked closely to devise various locations (including a mine shaft) through the merest hint of props and the audience’s imagination.
Close the Coalhouse Door manages to engage the audience in a hotly-debated subject and there is no doubt that the play has benefited from the hindsight which the last 40 years has provided. Will it inspire riots and protests? No. But it will make you think twice about the people behind the politics in an enjoyable and innovative way.