DUST Scargill’s dreams and reality. Britain1984-2011
The New Town Theatre, Freemasons’ Hall, 96 George Street Venue 7
NOTHING divided British society in the mid-1980s more than the bitter Coal mineworkers’ strike of 1984. As in 1926, a confrontation between a charismatic leader of the miners’ union and the elected government, brought poverty and misery to dozens of mining communities all overBritain. Margaret Thatcher, who became Prime Minister in 1979, was determined to break the power of the miners’ union which had forced a previous Conservative government out of office in 1974. Ironically, the Miners’ union played a part in bringing Thatcher to power when she succeeded Ted Heath as Tory leader after his electoral defeat in 1974. She determined to break the power of the miners and their famous ‘flying pickets’.
Scargill echoes another Arthur, AJ Cook who led the miners to defeat in the 1926 general strike with the famous slogan, ‘Not a minute on the day, not a penny off the pay’. Cook, a former Baptist preacher, died at the age of 47 in 1931.
This is the background to Ade Morris’s play. Arthur (Michael Strobel) and his publisher Barbara (Lucinda Curtis) are discussing his forthcoming biography of his hero AJ Cook when news breaks that his old nemesis, Margaret Thatcher, has died. Arthur is expecting a visit from Lawrence, one of his old militant flying pickets.
InDoncaster, Chris (John Sackville), a retrained former miner tells his wife Maggie (Alice Bernard) that he is facing redundancy from his health care job.
At times witty and at other times deeply moving, the play probes the depths of each character’s soul. Strobil’s Scargill is convinced that he was absolutely right and that history has vindicated him. Other characters illustrate the human cost of the miners’ struggle.
Simple staging means that a lot more rests on the actors to project the right image and not distract the audience. This experienced cast carry this task off easily. John Sackville stood out. With a change of coat, stance and accent he switched from a preaching, revivalist-style Welsh miners’ leader to a defeated, downcast ex-miner fromDoncasterand back again.
If you’re looking for an agitprop hagiography of Arthur Scargill as champion of the working classes, you’ll be disappointed. This is Arthur Scargill and the miners strike, warts and all.
Reviewed by David Kerr
***** Five Stars