Saturday, 16 December 2017

Review: In Time O' Strife

In Time o Strife perfomed by the National Theatre of Scotland
National Theatre Of Scotland
Oxford Playhouse


The coal industry has been all but wiped out in Britain and it's been 30 years since the strike which hastened its decline. But it will probably never die as a symbol of struggle.

And it seems that no Playhouse schedule is complete without a visit to the pits - we have seen Close The Coalhouse Door and Pitman painters in the last three years as the theatre tries to bring the mines to Oxford's spires.

The National theatre of Scotland is the latest to dig this historical seam. They have adapted Joe Corrie's 1926 play, Time O' Strife, originally written to help fund soup kitchens during a long and drawn out strike.

No matter what your political view it would be a hard person who is not affected by this almost completely laughless but engrossing piece. Most plays about mines and strikes focus on the hardship, and family turmoil as some are reduced to blacklegging to avoid death from starvation. We are treated to all of that in this piece as agonies pile up, friendships and more are broken and families are crushed.

Director Graham McLaren brings the text up to date using more modern costumes, folkrock interludes with Corrie's poems as lyrics, energetic dance and one fascinating effect with a protestor physically reacting to TV news footage before being jailed for three years.

A strong four-piece band is augmented by the actors who can sing and add more instruments to the line up.

The piece becomes a representation of all the miners' strikes up to the last one when the men went back defeated to preside over the emasculation of the industry.

These are proud men and women, wanting to work for decent money and conditions. Much of the action is placed before the 1948 nationalisation programme when private owners truly exploited the workforce. But there are references to strikes since then and there is a strong flavour of Brassed Off and Billy Elliott.

The play is a plea for The Common Man, the one who does the work but is cast aside as a serf.

You don't have to agree with the politics but you might be interested in the point of view which, three decades on from what was almost civil war in Britain, might have been lost.

One word on the production: the music is very good but the drums overwhelm the vocals and the lyrics are lost. Otherwise, if you can get through the near impenetrable Glaswegian argot, you'll have a night to fuel long debates.

Until Saturday.

REVIEW BY: Mike Rowbottom

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