The UK tour of COAL visited Curve Leicester last night. This production is an opportunity for audience members to peer through the looking glass into the upbringing of artistic director Gary Clarke who, in his own words, aspires to “capture a time in British history that seems to be being forgotten.”
This production is sweaty, dirty, loud and proud. It achieves exactly what Gary Clarke sets out to do in giving us a gripping insight to the lives of miner’s, their wives and the communities that surround them whilst pairing it with stunning choreography and visualisations.
The production starts with a choreographed comical domestic scene of a miner’s wife and her husband. The miner’s wife, played by TC Howard, is funny and yet gripping in her role and really commands the stage.
The largest section of the production, fittingly, illustrates the miner’s at work. These scenes are visually stunning and the choreography captures heat, fire, fear and the gritty realities that go hand in hand with mining. It also accentuated a great sense of camaraderie between these men and the deep bonds that connect them.
The soundscape during these scenes, created and arranged by Daniel Thomas, used original sounds taken from The National Coal Mining Museum for England and gives audience members a glimpse into how loud and frightening it must have often been.
I have to admit, at times the production felt a little bit like a highbrow pantomime – although I’m not entirely sure that it was supposed to. The ‘baddie’ – in the shape of Maggie Thatcher – was booed and heckled each time she swanned on and off the stage with a villainous gleam in her eye. Meanwhile, the ‘goodies’ in the shape of the coal miner’s wives entered the auditorium to hand out treats to audience members (which admittedly was a blessing for a certain hungry reviewer).
I did find myself internally rolling my eyes ever so slightly as Maggie was booed and heckled as I wondered whether the ‘panto’ aspect of this production cheapened what Gary Clarke was trying to achieve.
Gary Clarke has to be commended for involving the local coal mining community from each city the tour visits. Both the pit women and the brass band are cherry picked from the local community, which takes the personable aspects of this fantastic production to the next level.
All in all, COAL is definitely worth a watch. It’s not just a piece of art; it’s an invaluable history lesson.
To find out more about where COAL is visiting on its nationwide tour, please visit the website: www.coaltour.co.uk
Reviewed by Rosie Bambury
Photo: Joe Armitage