Having seen former Artistic Director Giles Croft’s production of The Cherry Orchard, I eagerly awaited to see whether Adam Penford’s Wonderland could fill such large boots and from the standing ovation at the end it’s clear that Penford started his tenure with a bang. Knowing very little about the narrative arc, other than the fact it’s about mining and gaining next to no help from the elusive title of Wonderland which to the little girl within me suggested that the play might be about wonderful things or of glorious times now past, I had very little idea of what to expect.
Yet Beth Steel’s brilliantly detailed writing meant that it quickly became evident (even to the ignorant like me) that to say that the play is merely about mining is to unjustly simplify it. Instead it timelines the events of The 1984 Miner’s Strike which came about as a result of the National Coal Board announcing that 20 pits in England would have to close, meaning 20,000 men would lose their jobs. Under Penford’s direction we were given a heart-breaking insight into the struggle and injustices felt by those who in response came out on strike. This struggle between the working class and the elite governing system unfortunately still resonates with our society today.
Morgan Large’s magnificent set design of an imposing coal face engulfs the entire stage with tunnels leading off in several directions and steel staircases leading to a gantry towering over the miners, making them appear insignificant and small in the face of potential danger. This visually highlighted the threat that miners faced on a daily basis which added with the knowledge that their strikes were aimed at securing their positions of working within this close proximity to danger loudly speaks of their bravery and endurance.
The unexpected addition of song and dance initially felt out of place as it undermined the expected seriousness that surrounds these topics. Yet within seconds these moments became my favourite and I looked forward to more of them. Perhaps this is because I have a background in dance and music and therefore I could identify elements within the performance, such as, moves that were very similar to those found in a Paso Doble which (at least to me) suggested strength, resilience and endurance in light of a threat.
During these moments the all-male ensemble predominantly moved a lot through bending their knees, lowering their heights, and physically using their arms and elbows in a way that was very indicative and symbolic of the miner’s movements down in the mine of shovelling coal. Additionally, their routine appeared to be physically challenging and exhausting which again theatrically symbolised the laborious work they had to endure whilst also capturing the spirit of mining. Similarly, the tenor/base tones of the song evoked a comparison to the music found in Les Miserable as the ensemble worked and moved in unison encapsulating the camaraderie and solidarity that underlined the entire play.
Furthermore, the use of strong Nottinghamshire accents and dialogue powerfully evoked an overwhelming sense of pride within the audience, many of whom had relatives directly affected by the miner’s strike. The wonderful attention to detail in relation to the poor conditions, harsh realities of an individuals struggle to earn enough money to put food on the table evidently spoke to memories close to home. This was clear in the loud emotional applause at the end with some individuals cheering whilst others wiped a tear form their cheeks – all of whom though had a wide grin attached to their faces. This suggested that despite the heartfelt topic they were evidently proud that such a difficult time is being remembered and immortalised for generations to come.
Going in with no expectations allowed me to be completely immersed within the story. I learnt a lot about our local past and it gave me a greater appreciation for my parents, grandparents and other relatives that lived in a time that didn’t have technology, a plethora of jobs available and governmental help. It’s brilliant that we are being reminded about this, about how lucky, spoilt and easy our lives are in comparison.
If you want to be transported into the past and gain an insight into and knowledge about it then go and see this play!
Thanks for reading 🙂