Writer: Chris Urch
Director: Paul Robinson
Reviewer: Glen Pearce
In May 1979, on the eve of her election to power, South Wales miners could be unaware of the impact Margaret Thatcher would have on their industry.
At the time, though, while there is some macho concern over the potential for a female Prime Minister, the biggest danger facing six miners at the bottom of a Welsh mine is the sudden explosion and tunnel collapse that has left them trapped a thousand feet underground.
For all their bravado and the knowledge that every time they step underground they face potential death, the growing sense of despair is hard to shake off. There may be some gallows humour but as time progresses the laughter gives way to bitter recrimination.
Chris Urch, in his impressive scriptwriting debut, creates a cross-section of the Welsh mining community. There’s leader of the six Chopper (Cornelius Booth), the voice of reason and experience who hides a secret as dark as the coal they mine, Bomber (John Cording), just days away from retirement and Hovis (Robert Jezek) a former Polish soldier who has adopted Wales as his new home.
Alongside the ‘old guard’ who have dedicated their lives to mining, the next generation already has sights set beyond coal. Brothers Curly (Tomos Eames) and Chewy (Taylor Jay-Davies) have wildly different characters but a shared belief that neither fully fits the mould as typical minor. The catalyst for much of the revelation in the piece is young Mostyn (Joshua Price), greener than green and wet behind the ears, his innocence also harbours a dark side as complex as his more experienced workers.
All six work well as a whole, conveying the closeness of the work group despite their occasional fights and differences. As the darkness envelops them, the bonds become tighter and while never achieving a happy conclusion there is a sense of resolution between the six.
Paul Robinson’s direction deftly takes Urch’s script, pulls a character to the fore to show a side of his character before letting him merge back into the ensemble. It’s a shifting focus that allows us to follow the complex structure of the group, the hierarchy and bonds that prevailunder even the most trying of circumstances.
Signe Beckman’s coal strewn pitch black set captures the claustrophobia of the situation well, aided by Hartley T A Kemp’s subtle lighting, which also makes use of that most powerful of stage effects – total pitch darkness.
Originally played in small studio spaces, some of the essential claustrophobia is lost in the transfer to a proscenium stage, even in the small confines of Bury St Edmunds’ Theatre Royal. However, the power of Urch’s writing and the conviction of the performances ensure the power of Land Of Our Fathers shines through the coal dust and the Georgian architecture. A powerful and moving piece of theatre.
Runs until 19 February 2016 and continues to tour| Image: Polly Thomas