Dance theatre and politics meet head on

Patrick Centre, Birmingham Hippodrome
February 11, 2016
Phil Preece

It’s always intriguing to see a new production when you have absolutely no idea what to expect – it’s even better when the result is as good as Gary Clarke’s Coal that premiered this week at Birmingham’s Patrick Centre.

One of the best things about Coal is the sophisticated and complex way Clarke musters a range of media in retelling the story of the political events affecting British mining communities during the mid-eighties. So there’s on-stage live music from the City of Birmingham Brass Band; complex atmospheric soundtracks and visuals including archive film footage, as well as narration, as the story of what happened when mining communities fought the government during the miners’ strike is graphically recreated; plus a cast which includes professional actors and dancers as well as enthusiastic members of the public.

The result is a compelling look at the behaviour of real people under political and personal pressure during this infamous period of national strife. Real research has gone into the making of this piece, and it shows in the section which explores the miners’ dauntingly physical work underground. Powerfully lit it perfectly expresses the extreme physicality inherent in this back-breaking industry and the teamwork necessary to such difficult and dangerous work.

CoalPhoto Joe Armitage
Photo Joe Armitage

There’s no way round the fact that this is political show. History insists there were at least two sides to the story, but only one unhappy outcome amply spelt out here by those others most closely affected, the wives, mothers and girlfriends. Most hauntingly, it is Eleanor Perry uncannily impersonating a Spitting Image-style Mrs. Thatcher using the leaderene’s own words who most clearly characterises the war-like status of the fight.

Hats off to Coal’s creator Gary Clarke. There’s so much in it, I would really love to see it again.

Coal continues on tour. For details visit