Writer: Garry Lyons
Director: Daljinder Singh
Set Designer: Kevin Jenkins
Reviewer: Ron Simpson
The Last Seam is a fine example of the community spirit which it celebrates. Commissioned by CAST in Doncaster and originally staged there, it is now making its way around the clubs and community halls of the former pit villages of Doncaster, Barnsley and Wakefield with the support of other local companies: in the case of South Kirkby, Red Ladder and Wakefield Theatre Royal.
Garry Lyons’ play is by no means unique in re-examining the history of Yorkshire’s pit industry – in fact, two of the cast are moving spirits in The Melting Shop which produced the excellent On Behalf of the People recently – but his approach is distinctive. To mark the closure of Hatfield Colliery in 2015 he conducted a series of interviews in the villages of Stainforth and Dunscroft which form the basis of the play, “virtually word for word”, he claims, but ingeniously structured.
Lyons’ method is to use five actors, each playing one main character, in a series of concurrent monologues which give a picture of life in Hatfield over the last 40 years, the 1984 strike the major event, but not the sole focus. Equally all five develop their individual stories in all their comedy and tragedy, inspiration and disillusion. Often the narration is dramatised, with the actors taking different roles, and occasionally two of the characters differ as to their interpretation of events. No doubt the conversational, apparently casual presentation reflects Lyons’ original interviews.
The result is a totally effective mixture of the general and the individual. In many ways Joe (David Chafer) and Sharon (Cathy Breeze) are the most typical members of the mining community, but, as they tell their tales, overlapping, finishing each other’s sentences, surprising stories emerge, notably how her part in Women against Pit Closures led to a political involvement that ultimately took her to Kurdistan. Also empowered by Women Against Pit Closures, Julie (Emma Tugman) qualified and trained as a social worker.
Then there are the Mavericks. Ted (Ray Castleton) has a long history of taking on authority through the courts, notably in the often hilarious story of his illegal “supper club”, though the events he describes have their bleakly tragic side, too. Paul (Jamie Smelt) is the only one who never really engaged with the pit. In his youth too busy chasing bands and fashions with fellow wild child Lynne (a very different role for Tugman), he later suffered mental and emotional problems that have led to a remarkable empathy in helping others.
Lyons’ script Daljinder Singh’s direction and Kevin Jenkins’ simple pithead setting create a natural feel to the production, reflected in understated performances that still have considerable emotional power when needed. Perhaps most important of all, the play has a message of the continuity of community, both in re-shaped lives and in village activities and memorials.
Touring regionally | Image: John Fuller