To get to the studio you have to walk up and around a caged lift shaft for several floors. It is dusty and industrial and the production team must have wished that they were performing below street level rather than above. The tumbler our drinks were served in was milled from steel, there were machining marks visible on the inside. Little noticed signs of labour which surround us, hidden and forgotten effort and a play about the men who worked in the dark. For those who allow their experience of the theatre to start at the front door things were going well.
The set was dark and played with perspective. The back wall appeared to be lined with coal and the flat surfaces absorbed most of the light while at certain angles it was reflected into surprising points of brightness. But this was not built on, it was a very regular performance space and devoid of the signs of structural support that would be present down a mine. Rather than a real place it seemed to be an incongruously perfect room in the coal.
The actors all performed well, they created a sense of fear contained by habit and professionalism and bravado and when cracks needed to appear in that containment they appeared. They communicated a sense of heat and a sense of hunger and of being, with only momentary drifts, Welsh.
But what was missing was a sense of claustrophobia, the actors sometimes delivered speeches as if they were looking out across a valley rather than into a wall of rock and coal a few inches from their faces. Only once was the imagined wall acknowledged, when a character was backed into it mid argument, and this was a powerful moment of confinement otherwise lacking. They had headroom, they had space to pace and shout without other characters hearing them, and without the sense of being trapped much of the evolution of characters and story felt less natural than the performances deserved.
As a series of character portraits it was a success. I’d also say, and I hope to have cause to write this sentence in all future reviews, when applying makeup to your legs to indicate you’ve been down a coal mine for a number of days you mustn’t stop at the line of your boxers, coal dust is no respecter of arses.
Writer: Chris Urch
Director: Paul Robinson
Designer: Signe Beckman
Lighting Designer: Hartley T A Kemp.
Composer & Sound Designer: Simon Slater
Running until 19th March
Reviewer: Joseph Sherlock