A fascinating afternoon of overtly political left wing theatre, as surprising as it was refreshing to see. First the Level 2 Theatre Arts performed Dario Fo's Can't Pay, Won't Pay which director Mitch Mitchelson had cleverly modernised and set during last summer's London lootings and then a hot foot over to Richmond Theatre to can't a wonderful revival by Northern Stage and Live Theatre of Alan Plater's eulogy to the mining industry Close the Coahouse Door. Both plays, in different ways, are a call to arms and a timely reminder that in a time of hardship it's rarely the bosses on whom the austerity falls. We are NOT in this together.
I particularly enjoyed the updating of Plater's play, which ironically begins under an enormous billboard advertising Meryl Streep as The Iron Lady - a reminder that how ever sympathetic and emotional we find the human tragedy of her personal collapse in dementia - her policies did more to destroy the communities and optimistic socialist principles that kept the collieries open and productive. Bin your sentiment at the door. This is a true history lesson told in a time honoured Marxist tradition of lecture, music hall song and political satire.
There are other touches which director Sam West and adaptor Lee Hall have added to bridge the gap between the play's original 1968 script and today's Tyneside. In a smart finale the ensemble cast down instruments and attach headsets. Where once a young man might follow his father down the pit, he's now more likely to make his way to the call centre.
I wonder whether, in the current climate, we might have a renaissance of this kind of work, a kind of rough, cabaret theatre that educates on the big issues, reclaims history and raises class consciousness through music, song, comedy and a shared understanding of the power structures governing our lives.
It's an antidote both for the despair of domestic naturalism and the escapist spectacle of some many forms of populist entertainment.
Mark is the Academic Director of the Drama Programmes at St Mary's University in Twickenham. He has worked internationally as a theatre director and educator for the past 15 years, focused mostly on youth, community, and conflict resolution work.
As a lecturer Mark taught at Goldsmiths College, Coventry University and was Head of Performing Arts at Canterbury College prior to joining St Mary’s in 2006.
His Professional directing credits include Henry V (One of US?) and Valhalla for RSC Education; The Wind in the Willows, Jack Cade, The Red, Red Robin for Sevenoaks Playhouse; Tender Souls, The Quality of Mercy and Playhouse Creatures for the Ambassadors Theatre group.
Mark is a director of subVERSE Theatre company for whom has directed fringe premieres of Chief, Dinnertime and OxfamC**t at Theatre 503.
Site specific work includes Purka and Shadow on Icelandic volcanoes and Novocento with students from the University of Genoa.