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Close the Coalhouse Door (Tour - Salford)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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Northern Stage and Live Theatre's Close the Coalhouse Door is a rare beast, as it is an educational play, which also manages to entertain but never patronises the audience.

Focusing on a mining family - their pain, their struggles, their anger, the humour within the most hellish of situations, yet most of all their zest for life. The piece informs the audience and explores; the first union of 1831, the young age of the miners - minors more like. And this epic tale is told using humour, song, dance and direct monologues.

Featuring the talents of Lee Hall - who adds additional material to Alan Plater's original play, directed with verve and passion by Samuel West - this is a play that demands to be seen as it could have so easily become an earnest, loosely structured collection of ideas. But instead, due to the love of the material and the energy of the cast - Northern Stage have created a play of real beauty.

The cast are terrific - all playing multiple roles. Adam Barlow is brilliant in several small but perfectly formed roles and each time, he displays great comic timing. Jane Holman is also completely engaging as the matriarch of the family who gives the hard working lost males as good as they get. Nicholas Lumley, likewise delivers an excellent turn as an ageing man - not quite beaten up by the archaic systems.

At times, the direction means that the play tries to be all things to all people and ends up being too clever for its own good. But you have to applaud how much ground is covered here and how the piece feels fresh because of the different ways the story is told - from radio news, jokes, music, and satire.

Soutra Gilmour's set design is excellent and gives real depth to the play. It also gives the performers a superb backdrop and sense of time passing by, as with each turn, another decade passes by. I loved the addition of an Iron Lady movie poster to show how their villain is now celebrated.

If you like the work of Alan Bleasdale, Willy Russell or indeed, Lee Hall (who adds some great contemporary references which are hilariously accurate) then Close the Coalhouse Door is for you, and it reminds us of the sacrifices these wonderful men and their families made so we could heat our homes.


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