Written by: Boff Whalley
Musical Arrangements by: Beccy Owen
Directed by: Rod Dixon
Reviewer: Peter Gray
We’re Not Going Back is a subtly radical piece of powerful theatre from Red Ladder, which transports us back full thirty years to when political decisions threatened the existence of a national industry and its communities. Set in a re-representation of the 1984-85 Miners’ Strike, its impact is seen from the unique perspective of the women who gave up their ordinary lives to take decisive action in extraordinary ways.
From the outset, the cast instantly plunge their audience into the immediacy and mood of this not-so-distant time, focusing on the lives of three sisters. They are all portrayed very differently in character and viewpoint, and yet are ultimately united in their struggle to add their voice and action to the miners’ cause with ‘Women Against Pit Closures’. In so doing we begin to understand the process through which they were beginning to break free from the constraints of their humdrum lives.
In spite of the bitter rawness of past memories, cynicism and disbelief at the Thatcher Government’s harsh treatment of miners and their communities, the experience played out is tinged with numerous humorous interjections, a constant presence throughout this naturalistic and authentic performance.
The effect of this contributes significantly to the pace and interest of the piece, keeping the audience fully engaged in the nuances of character relationships, thought processes and broader viewpoints. Northern wit and brilliant comic timing are both constantly in evidence, much to the sheer delight of the audience.
Song, both with keyboard accompaniment and a cappella, is a key element in the production’s huge success, with original scores effectively encapsulating the theme or moment. These are chosen sensitively, by matching a suitable duration of song to text, thereby adding to the flow of the performance. Each performance is enhanced by an equally strong singing ability from each of the cast, while impressive harmonies are achieved by very different, yet complementary, voices.
The younger generation’s often contrary, viewpoint is ably represented through the character of Izzie (Claire-Marie Seddon), complicated by her boyfriend’s controversial occupation as a police cadet. Olive (Victoria Brazier), and the principled religious orderliness of her worldview, is shaken and challenged by the politically motivated storm as it wreaks havoc in the lives of pit folk. Mary (Stacey Sampson) offers an appreciation of the struggles of a working wife becoming the main provider, while coping with her husband Eddie’s apparent growing sense of isolation and depression.
These three highly accomplished female performers, and Beccy Owen who is an integral player in the musical elements of the performance, all succeed in creating a masterful interpretation of Boff Whalley’s play (ex- Chumbawamba), with Rod Dixon’s and Jamie Simmons’ creative and effective directorial choices evident throughout.Through the effective use of a revolving stage, simple set changes are executed with an appropriate sense of place and time to each scene as the performance progresses.
We’re Not Going Back’s has a greater meaning, one that is clearly and poignantly summed up at the end – the determination not to give in or give up on the fight for fairness, rights and justice.
Red Ladder Theatre Company has really hit the heights with this truly unmissable performance. A wonderfully entertaining mix of musical comedy at its very best, fused cleverly and poignantly with sometimes subtle, at other times in your face, gritty, honest, illuminating drama.
There are a further two opportunities to explore the impact of the play with its cast, writer and musicians on Saturday 7th March 2015 at Unity Works, Wakefield (matinée) and at the Headingley Literary Festival, Leeds (evening). Hopefully Red Ladder will receive enough support to be able to stage this superb play again in the near future, and continue producing other high calibre performances for which they have become well known.
For more information visithttp://www.redladder.co.uk/