Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

black roses

Emily Beaton as Betty who becomes the organiser and most militant of the women of the miner's strike. Pictures: Roy Palmer

Black roses

Hall Green Youth Theatre


THE year-long miners’ strike of 1984-85 was the most bitter in British industrial relations history and the largest dispute since the General Strike of 1926.

It was a dispute in which three people died, two pickets and a taxi-driver taking a strike-breaker to work.

The battle between Margaret Thatcher’s Government and the National Union of Mineworkers was ideological as much as economic and Government policy limiting social security payments hit families hard, while heavy handed mass policing lead to violent clashes on picket lines.

At stake was an industry, a history and a tradition and defeat for the miners saw whole villages and areas thrown into abject poverty as pit after pit was closed.

The strike ended but the bitterness endured such that in many former mining areas, whatever the election, the nearest a Conservative will ever get to a seat is the village public convenience while police are neither trusted nor welcome.

It was into this industrial battle ground that writer Steven Downs set his play, based upon the oral histories of a group of women who had become involved in supporting the rose

It is not the easiest of subjects for young people but Hall Green Youth Theatre have done a splendid job in depicting the anger, violence, bitterness and ultimate futility of the year long dispute. But amid the grinding poverty, as money and hope runs out, the youngsters also expressed the sense of community and unity that the women's efforts behind the picket line engendered.

It was seen most 10 months into the strike when they organised a Christmas party for the children relying more on camaraderie than cash.

Entertainment included Marvo the Magician played by Ross Shaw with tricks in the just like that category, and comedian Luke Ellinor who provided enough corn to keep Kellogg’s going for a month or so in an amusing interlude.

But it is the wives who are the stars, trying to feed and clothe children and keep homes together, slowly becoming more militant than the miners themselves.

They are led by Betty, played by Emily Beaton, who takes on both NUM and National Coal board to give the women a real voice in the dispute.

We see her lead her women to London, where she tries to present a symbolic black rose to Margaret Thatcher at 10 Downing Street, and in the dark days, as defeat for the miners loomed, we see her militancy as she expels Christine, played by Lucy O’Neill, from the group because her husband is talking of going back to work. In Betty’s battle hardened eyes the wife of a scab is a scab by association.

Christine and her friend Sandra, played by Shannon Kavanagh, are the wives we perhaps get to know best along with their husbands Brian, played by Will Garrett, the first of the group to start wavering as the fight drains out of the miners, and Ray, played by Jack Heath.

While Betty becomes more political, Sandra and Christine are more concerned with the effect of the strike on the community.

With Doreen, played by Charlotte Crowe we see the real effect on families; banks offering loans - piling up the already unpayable debt - to ensure their mortgages are paid, social security making life as difficult as possible, children, in this case daughter Tracey, played by Roseann Smith, facing abuse at school and unable to go on a school trip as £5.50 was way beyond a household budget already hanging on by the slenderest of threads.

Directors Roy Palmer and Daniel Robert BeChristine and Rayaton have done a good job in making the crowd scenes realistic, from the women’s initial meeting with ineffective union rep Jack Woodhead, played by Joseph Allan, whose suggestion for how women could help was running a soup kitchen and washing up for pickets was met with very real anger, to the mass pickets with violence depicted in slow motion.

Lucy O'Neill as wife Christine and Jack Heath as miner Ray

With everyone in the Youth Theatre in the production, almost 30 youngsters, at times the stage was crowded but it was never untidy. The cast might have been portraying a mob, and doing it well, but never became one themselves.

A mention too for the youngster's accents with all the main characters making a fair fist of  speakin't Tyke, or't proper Yorkshire, or at least a passable attempt at a Northern dialect, which from a Lancastrian from the Pennine borders is gettin' on fer a compliment.

The opening scenes also used a clever video screen covering the rear of the stage depicting evocative black and white pictures of miners creating atmosphere. As opening night nerves disappeared as the night wore on you started to feel for the characters and, with first night out of the way, some of the delays between scenes will vanish to produce a hard hitting, dramatic production of a dark moment in British social history.

Within a decade of the end of the strike the coal industry had been privatised, the same year, 1994, an EU inquiry into poverty classified Grimethorpe in South Yorkshire, home of the famed Grimethorpe Colliery Band and inspiration for Brassed off, as the poorest settlement in the country and one of the poorest in the EU.

In 1983 there were 174 working pits in Britain and when the strike started in March 2004 there were 142,000 mineworkers. In 2009 there were just six pits left. Two years ago the UK used 60 million tons of coal, 50 million of which was imported. In December this year, just before Christmas, Britain’s last deep coal mine, Kellingley, near Pontefract in Yorkshire, will close – 30 years after the strike coal mining and the coal miner will be no more. To 10-10-15

Roger Clarke


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