Writer: Beth Steel
Director: Edward Hall
This reviewer had the pleasure of seeing this show on stage back in 2014 and, just as all the papers said, it was a timely and heartrending piece of theatre. In 2020 lockdown however, whilst its potency has not faded and it is certainly as relevant as ever, unfortunately owing to the ambitious stage design, much of the recorded dialogue is lost in an echo, and the home viewer is stuck missing writer Beth Steel’s nuance and, sometimes, her humour too.
Directed by Edward Hall, Wonderland tells of the 1984/85 miners’ strikes during Margaret Thatcher’s reign. We begin ‘in pit’ at Wellbeck Colliery, Nottinghamshire, where two sixteen-year old lads are on their first day. Scared and hesitant, the others are rough but welcoming, showing them the ropes and us the sense of community that the mines engendered. There are a few shaky Yorkshire accents, but the mining cast have strength in numbers and, intermittently breaking into song, we can really feel the sense of togetherness and unity that is soon to be tested to its limits.
We’re presented with both the political goings on above ground, as well as the consequences amongst the miners. Through a series of chilling conversations between Secretary of State for Energy, Peter Walker (Andrew Havill) and Head of the National Coal Board, Ian MacGregor (Michael Cochrane), we see how, with the sudden closure of twenty mines and the loss of over 20,000 jobs, the government was intent on handling this situation as a cut-throat business rather than a governing body: “Unemployment is evidence of the progress we’re making”, sneers MacGregor.
The ‘above ground’ cast are all suitably smug and, whilst Steel allows Peter Waters off the hook a little, showing him wavering on the particular handling of the situation, there’s absolutely no doubt where her loyalties lie. It’s hard to see how one might do otherwise when, as Steel tells us, the government’s attempt to create dissent among the miners was to hire David Hart (Dugald Bruce-Lockhart), millionaire dandy and sometimes avant-garde filmmaker who ran his anti-strike operation from Claridge’s. Bruce-Lockhart is a welcome comic reprieve here, leaning in to the ridiculousness of his character, swanning about miners’ clubs in a pin-stripe suit and tennis shoes.
As with the plot, Ashley Martin Davis’ set design has multiple levels, with a scaffold bridge, and a concerningly flimsy lift to take us down the mine. It’s this reverberating industrial design, so effective in the theatre, that makes the audio a little tricky to hear online. Most of the dialogue is understandable but you have to concentrate a fair bit, often missing aside jokes and quips. That said, this story is important enough that maybe it doesn’t matter. It’s merely proof of what we already know, that nothing replaces the singular focus and energy created in that darkened auditorium. Watch it anyway, take what you can from it, and spread the word.
Runs here until 12 April 2020