Close the Coalhouse Door (Oldham Coliseum)

It may be slightly dated, but Ruth Lovett finds there’s still value in the messages of ”Close the Coalhouse Door.”

James Hedley and Samuel Hargreaves
James Hedley and Samuel Hargreaves
© Joel Fildes

Entering a theatre to be greeted by a large picture of Margaret Thatcher is always somewhat unnerving, but is the ideal start for Alan Planter’s 1968 mining tale, using the stories of Sid Chaplin and the songs of Alex Glasgow to bring together this somewhat dated, yet charming show.

This community based saga sees retired miner Thomas (Cliff Burnett) regale family and friends with tales of the struggles of the miners of the North East and the rest of the UK from the 1800’s onwards.

Similar stories about the workers fighting the lords and land owners and being starved off the picket lines and in to work are brought to life tirelessly by the ensemble cast who also all provide all the music. From oboe to saxophone; piano to banjo there is a wide variety of musical talent in display as well as some charming vocals.

Relying on cabaret style that can seem a little pantomime-ish at times; it is difficult not to get soaked in to the stories and feel the passion for a near-dead industry.

The harmonised group sings sung directly at the audience are truly powerful and lift the piece from mediocre to engaging and thought-provoking. It is difficult to single out a particular performer but James Head as John and Cliff Burnett as Cliff both give sterling performances. Without the combined efforts of all the cast however, this piece would not be half as successful as it is.

The wonderfully designed set by Foxtons once again provides the perfect setting and under Kevin Shaw’s expert direction; this play is able to continue to have a place in modern theatre despite its dated subject matter.

Grab a cloth cap and march to the Coliseum to experience this delightful piece of drama that will leave you singing in your seat but also dwelling on what the pit men went through to get anything like decent pay and working conditions.

Close the Coal House Door runs at the Oldham Coliseum until 12 July