Queens of the Coal Age
In a co-production with the New Vic Theatre, Queens of the Coal Age is written by the Royal Exchange’s Associate Artist Maxine Peake. The scenario could be straight out of Victoria Wood: 4 women with contraband stuffed into their bras and knickers make their way 2000 feet below ground and stage a sit-in. However, this is a true story. Anne (wife of Arthur Scargill), Dot, Lesley and Elaine are miners’ wives from the Yorkshire branch of Women Against Pit Closures and in 1993 they joined a school trip to view the Parkside Colliery. Once underground, in protest at the pit’s forthcoming closure, they set about their plan to occupy the mine and refused to come back up.
Whilst the topic may be political, this is very much a light-hearted approach. Peake puts humour at the fore as we witness the women’s growing realisation of the reality of their situation – hydration, light...and toilets. Director Bryony Shanahan ensures momentum as the four feisty ladies relate their stories and build their relationships: Kate Anthony (Anne), (Jane Hazlegrove (Dot), Danielle Henry (Lesley) and Eve Robertson (Elaine) all share the limelight, ably supported by the token men. Georgia Lowe’s excellent design and Elliot Griggs atmospheric lighting believably take us down the pit into the depths of the mine.
These ladies may not be for turning, but ultimately there’s only one direction the ladies can go, and that’s back to the top, back to daylight and the normality of daily life. But they had their moment - they caused disruption and proved it’s not just the men who can put up a fight. Did they actually achieve anything? The pit still closed and the original story made a minimal dint in the news of the time, however it has provided a great opportunity to educate and entertain a new audience 25 years on.
Royal Exchange Theatre: Jun 28th- Jul 28th 2018