A dinner table, a pile of spuds. A morning break and a quick kickabout. A gleam of sunlight after hours underground. Snapshots of life in a coalmining community. But in the 1980s it all came under threat. Dance show COAL is the true story of an industry and a community’s fight for survival in the face of the Miners’ Strike, thirty years after it began. Based award-winning choreographer and dancer Gary Clarke’s own experience of growing up in the Yorkshire coalfields, it is based on years of personal research by Gary Clarke, including interviews with Anne Scargill, former wife of NUM president Arthur Scargill, and Betty Cook, the founders of Women Against Pit Closures.
On stage at The Marlowe, Canterbury, animalistic movement, dark make up and dim light evoke the physicality of the hard graft of the mine. Sweaty and streaked with soot, the five men bound across the stage, using their full body. They might be big men with large movements, but the toil in the mine takes its toll on body and soul. It’s a gritty and realistic portrayal.
It’s not just the men who matter in this story, but the women who stood by them. In each location, four local women join the cast, and this time it was the turn of four ladies from Canterbury. Led by TC Howard, whose dancing is tactile and elastic, Reiltin, Jeulz, Yolanda and Amanda all tell the story of life in the community. Jeulz Gambrill, Amanda Gerrard, Reiltin Tighe and Yolanda Varney responded to a call for performers from the community and successfully auditioned. None have professional theatre experience, but they all have a link to the mining industry.
They’re funny with it too – ‘Who’s got the money to go burning bras?’ one asks whilst reading an issue of Women’s Lib.
Of course, these strikes didn’t come out of nowhere, and many people affected by the closures blame Margaret Thatcher. Played by Eleanor Perry, sinewy and witchlike, she stalks the stage, her voice played by Steve Nallon, who played the controversial Prime Minister in satirical comedy Spitting Image.
Gutsy and bolshy, it’s a confident performance from the company. Powerfully evoking the defiant communities they were from, it’s a bold piece of contemporary dance.