Peter Gill, playwright and theatre director
Times review
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Bitter statements of a divided country

The Garden of England

The Cottesloe

Review by Irving Wardle, The Times, 15 November 1985

An early speaker in Peter Cox's documentary collage on the miners' strike claims that when pre-war miners arrived in Kent the lodging houses greeted them with signs saying, 'No miners need apply'.

Another speaker recalls that her father cycled down from the Lancashire coalfields only to die of pneumonia from working up to his waist in water in a Kentish pit. After that, she had no intention of getting on her bike.

This story also cropped up on Mr Cox's 7.84 piece on the strike, which appeared at the Shaw Theatre last year. It has the same title: emphasizing the gentle landscape of orchards, oast houses, and market gardens as the home of the most intransigently isolated of all Britain's mining communities.

The 7:84 production was an agit-prop show, ending with a strike fund collection. The present sequel is a retrospective assembly of evidence, edited from interviews with striking miners and their families conducted by Mr Cox and members of the National Theatre Studio.

John Burgess and Peter Gill's production contains only one dramatized scene, when the company briefly form up into an enraged, taunting picket line. Otherwise, the evening consists of mass exchanges of dislocated statements, or seated discussion passages on prison sentences, sackings, and their abiding hatred of those who went back to work.

The form echoes the shared sense of confusion. 'We get so worked up inside, we can't say what we mean', one woman says. It seems that the community still do not know what has hit them; and that they cannot connect their previous lives with the bloodshed, arson, reprisals, and vendettas of the past two years.

A lot of what they say is extremely positive. Speaker after speaker remembers the strike as a marvellous time: meaning that women broke out of domesticity and found a public voice; that the prospect of destitution released a flood of generous help from outside; and that all kinds of new bonds sprang up in adversity.

At the same time, their memories are choked with frustration and rage; and the sense of an uncontrollable disaster that impelled their normally peaceable friends and relatives into acts that brought out the police on horseback.

The sense of a trap is intensified by the fact they are fighting for their rights to jobs that no civilized penal institution would ever inflict. This bitter evidence on the divisions of England is presented with dignity and passion by a company among whom I must mention Roger Lloyd Pack and June Watson.

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