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Review Round-up: West & Hall Close the Coalhouse Door

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Lee Hall’s tweaked version of Alan Plater’s Close the Coalhouse Door returns to the Newcastle home where Plater’s "play with songs" was first performed 44 years ago.

This Brechtian production directed by Samuel West charts the major strikes, victories and disappointments in British mining history from the formation of the first unions in 1831.

The music by Alex Glasgow is inspired by north eastern folk songs from each period. The original production’s audience consisted chiefly of miners from the pit villages of County Durham and Northumberland and caused such a sensation that its run was extended several times.

The new production stars Paul Woodson and Jack Wilkinson runs until 5 May 2012 at Northern Stage, Newcastle upon Tyne before embarking on a tour to Richmond (London), Salford, Huddersfield, Guildford, Durham, Oxford and York.

Damian Robson

“A tour de force in acting, direction, comedy and musicianship… You're made to think, to get angry, to get mad about the injustice of the character's situation, to get mad about the history of the politic, and the lies that continue to be told … The company are so at ease with each other the scenes work seamlessly, split staging, swapping characters, changing time frames all work to great effect. The setting from Soutra Gilmour is wonderful, creative yet simple, effective yet evocative.. The cast … work with great flair … and there are strong performances from each member… I am meant to be impartial, not swayed by theatrical tricks, but I stood and applauded in a standing ovation… if you really appreciate good theatre, then you have to see it.”

Chris Riches
Daily Express

“Director Samuel West has revived it with ... grit and sheer unrestrained joy… West gives his characters license to run amok in their terrace, dancing and performing Alex Glasgow’s hilarious and memorable folk songs with riotous zeal. Chris Connel … and David Nellist … particularly shine. There’s constant juxtapositions of power and impotence, greed and frivolity, Tory and Labour, sexism and feminism, young and old, celebration and fear. Plater – described as an 'instinctive socialist' – died in 2010 but Hall’s revision allows for the demise of the great Durham and Northumberland collieries, giving the 1968 script a fitting end. But it’s through Glasgow’s songs that we realise just how great a slice of the community’s soul was destroyed when these great pits were put to sleep.”

Susannah Clapp

“I have never been in a theatre where an audience so totally claimed a show as their own … The roars were not only of approval and enjoyment but of absolute recognition … Close the Coalhouse Door is whole-heartedly partisan and unashamedly (sometimes a bit of shame might come in handy here) didactic. Samuel West's lively Brechtian production glories in its ethos … The cast push round Soutra Gilmour's impressive design … Alex Glasgow's wonderful songs, inspired by Tyneside music hall, are crucial to the play's spirit... The ferocious, forthright title song … is enough to ensure further ovations when the play sets off on tour in May.”

Chris Tighe
Financial Times

“This new production … is helped by superb casting… The actors are thoroughly convincing in the play’s sudden shifts between pathos, lyricism and comedy. And they do justice to the fine music of Alex Glasgow... In this production, Hall is loyal to his friend and mentor Plater, who died in 2010. Hall describes his additional material as “keyhole surgery”; in particular he has enhanced the role of Ruth, the outsider … Only in John, whose inner struggles recall miner Oliver Kilbourn in the Pitman Painters, do we see real depth of character. For a fleeting moment towards the end, Hall propels us into 2012; the result is both comic and uncomfortable. Otherwise, we must draw our own conclusions about what happened after the mid-70s, when the play ends. This is the prequel, not the sequel, to Billy Elliot.”

Libby Purves
The Times

“The episodic style echoes Oh! What a Lovely War, and Sam West’s playful direction is marvellously supported by Soutra Gilmour’s set... Jane Holman and Nicholas Lumley as the grandparents are a treat, Lumley doing a striking impression of Lloyd George in a hat-and-silver-mane combo… The final song about modern inequality and fat-cattery and the North-East’s journey from coalmines to call centres implies too facile, too unworked a parallel between today and that noble Victorian fight for basic decencies. That gap in the play’s political teeth does twinge. But it’s a warm, funny night, and I am still humming a grand anthem of socialist self-mockery, forgotten since my own leftier days - 'As soon as this pub closes, the Revolution starts!'”

- Rebecca Hussein


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