What a timely revival for Alan Plater’s remarkable musical play Close the Coalhouse Door, first written and performed in 1968. The collaboration between Northern Stage and Live Theatre has been updated from the original play by Alan Plater; the lyrical prose of ex-miners Sid Chaplin and Alex Glasgow whose …”memorable funny and rousing songs are the heart of Close the Coalhouse Door.” Songs described by Plater as drawing their inspiration from a long tradition of Tyneside music hall songs.
The play (directed by Samuel West) is set in the Great Northern Coalfield in the home of one of the mining families who between them deftly tell the story of the coalmines and workers through key points in their history, their fight against one desperate injustice after another. The set sits under an oppressive giant pit wheel, the audience are made aware of imposing unseen slag heaps all around.
The talent of all the actors is quite breath-taking; they seamlessly flow from one subject to another, moving from witty yet poignant dialogue with a smattering of jokes throughout into raucous songs, accompanying themselves on all manner of musical instruments. Their contagious enthusiasm occasionally spilling out into difficult to control giggling, that music hall feeling never being too far away.
Lee Hall took the original play and with the same blend of infectious humour and deep pathos of Plater took us from 1968 to 2012.
I was left feeling so moved at the final injustice after the NCB finally took control; the miners thought their traditional way of life was safe for generations to come, after all there was still four hundred years’ worth of coal to be mined, their socialist ideals had won through…. We were then reminded of what really happened, those once proud communities left desperate and fragmented, their only form of work being faceless call centre operatives.
The only slight criticism I had of a truly memorable performance was to question why the play was in three short acts, having two intervals did seem quite unnecessary as it somewhat broke the flow and momentum of the performance.
Close the Coalhouse Door is on at York Theatre Royal until Saturday 30 June.