Vibe Magazine editor Rob Lawson checked out The Last Seam by Garry Lyons at The Peacock, Sunderland – find out what he made of it….

Produced by Cast Theatre as part of the Sunderland Stages programme, this thoughtful, moving play is set in the South Yorkshire coalfield – but its depiction of a mining community coming to terms with the closure of its pit is relevant in many devastated villages and towns across our region.

Writer Garry Lyon recorded more than 40 hours of conversations with people from the communities of Dunscroft and Satinforth where Hatfield Main, one of the UK’s last deep seam mines, closed with two hours notice in 2015.

Lyons then turned these conversations into a verbatim play, knitting together stories and anecdotes describing the courage, resilience and humour of communities which fought the closure of their pit and then had to deal with the overwhelming repercussions of the loss of jobs and identity.

A brilliant cast of five are convincing and compelling and The Peacock was the perfect venue – its intimacy and the fact the actors were literally feet away made the show feel like an extended conversation. At times, a very raw and emotional conversation.

The characters and dilemmas would be recognisable to those who lived through the 1984-85 strike and felt the repercussions of the pit closures. A couple struggling financially to bring up their baby as the striking dad’s pay was stopped and benefits were denied. A mum politicised by what she sees as the viciousness of the Government and the violence of the police. A dad whose son’s suicide attempt he traces directly back to the strike.

To give balance, there’s also a character, Paul, who lives in the community, but who’s life doesn’t revolve around the pit. His is more of a story about growing up in the 1980s and 90s, but occasionally his narrative felt like a loose thread.

The first act is mainly about the strike, the second about the eventual closure of Hatfield Main and how the closure affected the individual characters and the community as a whole. The anger about the closures and the shattering of communities built around the pits is very real and in some places still relevant today.

The Brexit rant was unnecessary and felt out of place, and at times the play felt a little too static.

But these are quibbles. This is a powerful, persistent and honest account about working class communities let down by a Government who just didn’t seem to care. Superbly performed, it’s in turn heartbreaking and hilarious, but is too realistic and relevant to be nostalgic.

Rob Lawson


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