It’s rare that I find myself sitting through a play so lifeless that I consider leaving.
Most plays that receive weak reviews have a few stand-out mistakes which let them down: clunky acting, inappropriate costumes, a dull script, but ultimately have some redeeming features that make for an acceptable performance. The issue with this play was that there was not one particular thing wrong with it. The actors’ performances were not horrific, but either too muted or too animated, the script adaptation did not stray too much from, but sugar-coated the once bleaker original, and whilst the live brass sequences were impressive, they felt too long and disjointed from the general flow of the narrative. All these minor problems came together in a watery, beige cocktail of blandness and monotony, which I suppose reflects the monotony of the miners’ lives depicted, but in the end makes for a sleepy evening’s viewing.
The play centres around the fictional village of ‘Grimley’, a parallel to the real mining village of Grimethorpe in South Yorkshire, named the poorest village in Britain in the early nineties. It begins with a flash-forward monologue from ‘Shane’, describing his life growing up in Grimley, through the pit closures of Thatcher’s regime. He stands on an imposing shaft drill that remains on stage throughout the play, a constant reminder of the industry that is the villagers’ livelihood and struggle. The set design looked professional and realistic, but lacked imagination and seemed to slow down the quick scene changes which would have been more distinct with a change of set.
Confusingly, as the play moves back in time to Shane’s childhood, he is still played by the same actor, Luke Adamson, an eight year old boy played by a young man. If this was for effect, it did not work. There were other children in this play, albeit with no lines, but there is really no need for a professional actor to shout the occasional lines, “Dad!”, “I’m 8”, and run around pretending to be an aeroplane. The young Shane could have easily been played by a child.
The other actors gave sound performances, but nobody really stood out, apart from maybe John McArdle’s slightly over-acting band conductor. Before I looked at the programme I found myself wondering if the people on stage were professional brass players who had been asked to act occasionally, as the music was well-played and together, one of the positives of the play. The length of the pieces seemed self-indulgent, however, like they had wanted to just have a good play with their mates. Perhaps this was reflective of the characters’ own feelings?
The play should have been one that inspired sympathy in the audience as the characters struggle with the their familial and professional problems, the brass band being their one past time that brings joy in a dark time. I was not at all bothered. By the end I wanted the pit to close so the play would hurry up and end.