Writer/Performer: Danny Mellor
Director: Ben Butcher
The Grove Hall is a community venue in what was a pit village. The audience filling up a sizeable chunk of the seven or eight rows of chairs contains a majority of people old enough for the events of 1984 to be a vital part of their memory.
The stage is empty except for a chair and a young man comes bounding in from the back of the hall carrying his pint. As he has his first sips, he embarks on the story of the Miners’ Strike, passionately and vigorously told. It seems a little odd for a young man to be telling those who lived through it how to react (the closing theme of “We did our bit, now it’s your turn” rings especially false), but his narrative seems true to events as experienced in a mining community – at least to a reviewer who has memories of working in a pit village at the time, but not as a miner.
Writer/actor Danny Mellor is from a South Yorkshire mining family and his empathy for the life lived in the pit villages is evident, only occasionally tipping over into sentimentality. Undermined was a considerable success at the Edinburgh Fringe where one imagines the audience approached the subject from a quite different angle. Now it is on a brief Yorkshire tour under the auspices of the Red Ladder local touring programme.
Mellor cleverly mixes the historical and the fictional. There is a violent set-piece on Orgreave, for instance, told from the point of view of Mellor’s assumed character, Dale. He and his three mates go through the strike together (though not quite to the end), with events in their lives supplementing the looming tragedy for the industry and the community.
Mellor is a dynamic physical actor, calling up drunks in the Welfare, pickets being dragged by the neck, fights that end up in a scrum on the floor, even Mrs. Thatcher marching in jack-booted splendour. His verbal narrative changes gear as hardship and the certainty of failure loom. To begin with its heroic rhymes declaimed with fervour, followed by the excitement of meetings at the Welfare planning a triumphant two-week campaign, then, as the realities of hunger, police brutality and the growing certainty that one of your mates will be a “scab” take hold, a more restrained, often bitter narrative style takes over.
Ben Butcher directs a simple walk-in-an-do-it production (only some modest, but effective, lighting changes add to the effect of one man, one chair) full of contrast, but with only one viewpoint. Undermined is unashamedly partisan and none the worse for that, but on one crucial issue is more liberal than many miners at the time. Is that guy trying to hide his face on the bus going into work a scab or a decent desperate man you’ve known all your life? Undermined takes the latter view – it is ultimately about friendship and community.