Bleak, dour, hopeless. All words that correctly identify the putrid atmosphere in the coalfields engendered by Thatcher and her Tory henchmen as they executed their plan to smash the Trade Unions. All aided and abetted by Labour Leader Neil Kinnock and the vested interests at the top of the Labour Movement who did not want the status quo rocked.
Mellor’s one act play begins in such a vein as we are introduced to Dale, a miner at Cortonwood Colliery in reflective and angry mood. But by the end of this magnificent tour de force words such as hope, passion, excitement and solidarity are added to our vocabulary regarding the strike.
One thing is certain. If the Left had been the ones at the top of the Labour Party in 1984 then this strike would have turned out very differently. The leadership, perhaps for the first time ever actually give a voice to the hopes and aspirations of the members and are capable of articulating what sort of society people want to live in. And it is not the sort of society that once the going gets tough drops fellow workers and leaves them at the mercy of the mass media and a brutalising government. It would challenge canards such as the so called national ballot and exposed the role of the security services acting as agent provocateurs. Instead of lining up with the Tories to condemn the actions of striking miners matters such as the Battle of Orgreave would have been exposed long before they were.
After such a serious start Dale takes us through the ups and (mostly) downs of the dispute. Whilst the topics covered are the staples of such fare (police brutality, the push and shove of the picket line, the travails of the women) the friendship’s of the men are examined with a surprising and dark twist which puts a whole new slant on matters.
As with the David Peace Yorkshire noir novel, “GB ’84” the shocking implication of Thatcher’s phrase, The enemy within” is examined.
Just who were these people, the enemy within? Veterans of D Day. Men who had been on the Burma Railway. Lads who fought in the bloody Italian campaign. The Korean War. The Falklands. Northern Ireland. People who were St.John’s volunteers. A guy who was a fill in Vicar when people went on holiday. Lay ministers. Scout Leaders. And men suffering illnesses brought on by the conditions underground. The Enemy Within…….
Mellor’s performance is physical and visceral but also gentle and subtle when required which stops the thing veering into preachy territory and is played out to a cracking soundtrack. My only gripe is that there was not enough discussion of the wider issues that caused the strike in the first place; an overall failure of capitalism to deliver and the need for a planned economy to prevent such a tragedy being played out in the future.