A play which marks the closure of one of the UK’s last remaining deep seam mines and commemorates mining communities is coming to Sunderland.
The Last Seam, which explores the closure of the Hatfield Main pit in June 2015, will have a particular resonance in the city and is one of the highlights of Sunderland Stages’ Autumn 2018 season.
This powerful production written by Garry Lyons echoes the stories behind the UK’s mining heritage and will help to ensure the voices of our former miners and our mining communities are not forgotten.
Garry, an established playwright and lecturer in the University of Leeds’ School of Performance and Cultural Industries, based his drama on stories he collected over a five month period from ex-miners, their families and the local community around Hatfield Main.
The play covers the period from the Miners’ Strike of 1984-5 through to the shutting of the mine and the Brexit referendum.
“The idea for a play developed from me following the news about the Hatfield Main closure, literally with two hours’ notice. Cast, a theatre in Doncaster, had recently opened and was looking for new writing and I approached them and said that the closure after such a long history of mining in the area was worth exploring as a play,” Garry explained.
“They agreed and the project took off from there. I’m from London and although I’ve lived in Yorkshire for many years I had no particular connection to mining so went into the research with no preconceived ideas of what stories and themes might emerge,” he added.
The play examines the effects the closure of Hatfield Main had on two local villages and their inhabitants. Its five main characters are amalgamations of people Garry met during his months of research.
“Their dialogue, their words, are as they were spoken to me. I wanted to keep the accents and tone of what they said and how they said it so some of the dialogue is direct transcripts of real conversations.
“As elsewhere – including the north east – the mine provided the work and wages for so many people and when it was so brutally closed, people and communities were left to rot. What struck me, though, was the determination of the local communities to survive – the spirit was still there and slowly, with the help of several local organisations and agencies, the area is beginning to rejuvenate.”
Garry has a connection with the north east as his partner comes from Hexham and he has warm and vivid memories of a ten-day school trip to the East Durham coalfield in the 1980s.
His view is this region suffered more than others because of the mine closures: “The north east had it worse because the closures started there – the north east was used as an experiment by the Government before they tackled the more militant Nottingham, Yorkshire and Derbyshire coalfields. Its history of decline is longer.”
The Last Seam clearly covers serious and difficult ground, but Garry was determined it would have its lighter moments. “The people I met, the miners and their families, told me some really funny stories, many of which found their way into the play. There’s a gentle humour throughout and I think that makes it more accessible.
“I hope it’s a tribute to those who worked in the mines and their families – but I also hope it’s a tribute to those who lived in the same communities who had nothing to do with the mines. One of my main characters lives in the area, but doesn’t work at the mine and that means he has a different and interesting perspective,” he explained.
Helen Green, Head of Performance for Sunderland Culture, which delivers Sunderland Stages, said: “I think The Last Seam will strike a chord with north east audiences. The stories of the Miners’ Strike will obviously stir memories, as will the personal stories from a range of people from mining communities. I think there will be a genuine resonance with audiences from different generations and backgrounds.”
The Last Seam, delivered by Cast, will be performed at The Peacock on Thursday, October 11 and Friday, October 12. Tickets cost £9, £7.50 for concessions, and the play is suitable for those over 16.
Tickets for The Last Seam can be booked via the Sunderland Stages website … www.sunderlandstages.com
* Garry will be delivering a writer’s talk before the show on Thursday, October 11 at 6pm downstairs in the Peacock Bar. He will talk about how he researched and wrote the script.