Wonderland, Beth Hall’s new play about the 1984 miners strike has been given a wonderful production by the company at Hampstead Theatre. It needed some stagecraft to do the subject justice, as it is a huge canvas which a lesser playwright could have easily lost in muddle and cliché. By focusing in on a small group of men and allowing us to get to know their close knit community in the pit we are able to feel the personal heartbreak as their lives are torn apart. The writing is clear and very well structured and the action moves along very swiftly. Points are made and motivations are laid bare with great economy and compassion. This is an ambitious play with a very big heart. It needs to be seen in the North of England.
There are some excellent performances. I was very moved by Gunnar Cauthery as Spud, a reluctant scab, and by Paul Brennan as Colonel Deputy- a man worth far more than any of the smug, suited figures who are intent on bringing him down and taking away his livelihood. It is important that we see a slightly softer side to the implacable government in the person of Peter Walker and Andrew Havill makes him real and conflicted. Two young apprentice pitmen, Jimmy and Malcolm, are very well played by Ben-Ryan Davies and David Moorst and we see them learn the brutal facts of life after an idealistic start. Having said that, this is truly a company show which needs split second timing and physical skill and it is this which impresses most.
The company has been given the best chance it could possibly have to shine by Edward Hall’s direction and a spectacular set by designer Ashley Martin Davis which matches the ambition of the play and takes us both below ground and into the corridors of power. This is done by a combination of theatrical bravura as a pit lift descends, or the simplicity of a single table with a decanter of whisky on it rising up. It is wonderful to watch, often lit by little more than the headlamps of the miners and the music, strong traditional folk such as The Blackleg Miner, is sung with great feeling.
This is proper theatre, real and dynamic, a team working with enormous skill and talent to tell a part of our national story which should never be forgotten. It’s to Hampstead theatre’s credit- and to Edward Hall’s credit personally- that a company has been gathered who are able to allow a small theatre with big dreams to make work which our National companies can envy.