For the world premiere of Queen Coal, Sheffield’s Crucible Studio Theatre has been transformed into an underground mining environment.
Bryony Lavery’s play looks back with anger and compassion on the 1984 miner’s strike. The ingeniously designed set reflects the all-enveloping character of a small mining community. Armchairs arranged in a circle ensure that the audience feel like front-room spectators.
The creative use of light and sound accentuates the immediacy of the witty and strident dialogue.
The play centres on the fractured relationships between a miner, his ex-wife and his sister – seen from the very different perspectives of the two women. Justine has, in Maggie’s view, betrayed both the cause they once fought for, and her husband and children, by leaving her Yorkshire home at the end of the strike and pursuing her own radical agenda in London. She has returned, with some ambivalence, to join in a local celebration of Margaret Thatcher’s death. A grotesque ‘guy’, complete with Thatcher mask, is the fourth character in the piece.
The major theme is betrayal – both political and personal. Towards the end the play veers towards a wilder expressionism – embodying a deep despair. It makes for a poignant and heart-breaking experience.
Queen Coal continues its run until November 22.