This production, receiving its world premiere at the New Town Theatre in this year’s fringe, was written to mark the 30th anniversary of Arthur Scargill’s election as president of the National Union of Mineworkers. The action is set in Scargill’s grace-and-favour flat in the Barbican which the NUM, of which Scargill is still honarary president, is currently taking legal action to remove him from. Although this goes unremarked upon in the play it is this theme – a reexamination of the hero status bestowed by the left on the man once known as “King Arthur” – which forms the crux on the plot.
The catalyst for the action is the death of Scargill’s old nemesis, Margaret Thatcher. This fictionalised event allows playwright and director Ade Morris to bring many of the historical themes of the miners strike together with the modern events of cuts and coalition government – although the text is not so up to date as to consider the most recent events, on which I’m sure Scargill (and Thatcher, now that I think about it), would certainly have a view.
Unfortunately, the original dramatic driver of Thatcher’s death, which is actually quite interesting, is somewhat wasted: surely there must have been a more dramatic way to learn about this than Scargill opening his laptop to cry “cor, blimey” or words that effect?
In its place a variety of additional devices are drafted in. We have a book Scargill is writing about 1920s trade unionist Arthur Cook and the parallels drawn between the two of them. We have his female publisher who stomps around a lot and makes tea. We have a drunk former colleague arriving to confront Scargill over his legacy. We have a tenuously connected young family in Doncaster living out modern day cuts. We have a decade-old secret which threatens to challenge Scargill (but actually turns out to be nothing whatsoever to do with him really). When the promised reckoning does come, it comes wrapped in so much dramatic scaffolding – especially for a play that’s only 80 minutes long – as to be utterly blunted.
This is, in the end, a rather disappointing execution of a very promising idea. The performances are for the most part solid, but the text in the end lacks dramatic bite. Wouldn’t it have been more interesting to see the meeting between Scargill and Thatcher that never happened? Wouldn’t it have been more interesting if the couple in Doncaster were linked to Scargill in a less tangential fashion? It may be that those weren’t the plays Ade Morris wanted to write, but for me the play that he did write feels like a wasted opportunity.