Reviewed by Kathryn Harrison
Last night (4th July 2018) my mum and I visited The Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester to watch Queens of The Coal Age by Maxine Peake. This play tells the story of four ordinary women who were founding members of Women Against Pit Closures, as they occupy Parkside Colliery. We had a personal interest in this play, coming from a long line of coal miners, living in the town where Parkside pit was and my mum whilst not involved with this particular protest, was also a member of Women Against Pit Closures at Parkside until the demolition of the towers.
The play starts with us seeing the four women as the prepare to enter the pit. There is Anne, played by Kate Anthony, Dot, played by Jane Hazelgrove, Lesley, played by Danielle Henry and Elaine, played by Eve Robertson. They manage to pass themselves off as an educational group to enter the mine before refusing to come back up. Once in the mine they find the manager’s office and settle themselves in despite the orders and threats to leave from pit manager Mr Ramsey, played by John Elkington. Over the course of their occupation they meet Michael, played by Conor Glean, who brings them food, drink and news of how their protest is being perceived topside, from both the press and the miners themselves.
There was a lot of humour in the play. I liked how the humour and the relationships between the women felt very natural and understated, the characters felt real and relatable. In the second half of the play we learnt more about the women’s fights to keep the mines open and their reasoning behind being involved. With the character of Michael we also learnt more about the wider issues in the country at the time including racism and political apathy of the youth. This play touched upon a number of issues including sexism, racism, and the breakdown of communities due to pit closures but I felt it often didn’t go deep enough and that the play would have benefited from providing more of background knowledge of the mining industry, strikes and closures.
Overall I enjoyed this play, the cast were very good and the subject matter very interesting. It’s definitely worth a watch I just wish it went a little deeper.
Tickets cost from £7 to £40 (booking fees may apply).
Queens of the Coal Age is at the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester from 28 June to 28 July 2018, for more information or to book tickets visit www.royalexchange.co.uk or call the box office on 0161 833 9833.
Royal Exchange Theatre, St Ann’s Square, Manchester, M2 7DH | 0161 833 9833