So, one week in and one to go, and personal comments, tweets, emails and audience reaction aside, there have been reviews a-plenty, ranging from a miserly two stars out of a possible five in The Times to a resounding thumbs up The British Theatre Guide – “one of the best pieces of theatre I have seen in years.” The truth, to my mind veering strongly towards the latter, lies somewhere between the two.
The reviewer for The Times, opts to judge the play primarily as a police procedural and as such finds “little to distinguish it from any number of mediocre TV cop shows”, and although she recognises that other elements exist – the Miners’ Strike, issues around gender and social inequality – chooses not to allow these the significance I believe the play accords them. As anyone who’s read my novels, or, indeed, seen this production, might attest, the nuts and bolts of the plot – the who did what to whom – are not what interest me most. [Perhaps I should have taken up another line of employment.] I want the mechanics of plot to work, surely, but what I’m more interested in is the why – motivation and characterisation – and, perhaps just as importantly, what the telling of the story allows me to say about the society and values of the world in which its taking place. So it is exactly the Miners’ Strike and its legacy that I’m interested in here, as well as, yes, gender and social inequality, and, running through everything, the persistence of memory. And if those elements don’t come through for the majority of the audience more strongly than they did for The Times then, as a writer, I’ve failed.
What clearly hasn’t failed – even for The Times – is the production itself …
The good news is that Jack McNamara’s production, for Nottingham Playhouse and New Perspectives, is supremely stylish.
Ruth Sutcliffe’s design of gliding black panels and Azusa Ono’s arresting lighting conjure up a murky unease as the plot stops across decades. Figures lurk in shadows or in the sickly yellow glow of streetlights, jazz music curls like smoke around scenes of tense domesticity or police interrogation. Monochrome video imagery flickers – fingerprints, X-ray images, miners on the picket line hemmed in by battalions of uniforms.
Sounds good to me.
And what doesn’t fail – even at those moments – a few, but they’re there – when the script falters – are the actors, whose work has been universally praised and who can, night after night, even knowing the piece as well as I do, make the back of my neck tingle, my heart beat faster, reduce me to tears.
You have to be a subscriber to read The Times review on line, but for anyone wanting to track it down it was in the Friday, 7th October issue. Links to other reviews follow.
I was grateful, of course, for Steve Orme’s wholehearted response in The British Theatre Guide and particularly enjoyed reading the piece by Emma Pallen in Impact, the University of Nottingham’s Official Student Magazine. And I was especially delighted – nay, thrilled – to have the play’s authenticity attested to in the Traffic Light Theatregoer blog by Francis Beckett, who, together with David Heneke, wrote a history of the Miners’ Strike, Marching to the Fault Line, published by Constable.