Based on a true story that gives a different perspective on the closure of British mines, Queens of the Coal Age highlights the role women played in the protests against pit closures.
Maxine Peake’s play focusses on the Women Against Pit Closures movement, and the four women who occupied a coal pit at Parkside Colliery in Lancashire during 1993.
The play was originally written for radio, which begins to show in the second act, due to its focus on dialogue rather than action. However, the cast are engaging and Anne Scargill (wife of National Union of Mineworkers leader Arthur) turns a play focussed only on the dialogue between four characters, to one that is entertaining and a joy to watch.
The New Vic Theatre is a fitting location for a play set in a pit, as the theatre-in-the-round, aided by lamps and smoke, creates a sense of what it would have been like for the women down the mine.
Despite the grim conditions, the camaraderie between the women shines through. Yes, they have arguments – which is unsurprising after being stuck in a mine for five days – but they stick together. This is demonstrated best when Dot decides to leave the pit due to exhaustion, and the women all join her as a united front. This camaraderie can also be seen between the actresses themselves as they support Lucy Tuck, who recently replaced Eve Robertson to play the part of Elaine due to illness.
Although Peake’s script demonstrates the friendship between the women, the reason why these women are fighting is echoed throughout the play. The director Bryony Shanahan’s use of miners, from past and present, storming the stage demonstrates the rich history of mining and how significant the closures would have been for the families, as it had been a vital form of employment for generations.
The play also portrays themes of misogyny and racism, with Michael, a young mixed-race miner, representing a new generation.
Not only is the play funny and entertaining, it also highlights some lesser known aspects of the miners’ protests.
Queens of the Coal Age is at The New Vic Theatre, Newcastle-under-Lyme until 29 September 2018. For tickets visit their website.