Arts Reviews

Wonderland @ Nottingham Playhouse

Written by Beth Steel, whose dad worked at Nottingham’s Welback Colliery, and directed by Adam Benford, Wonderland is a delightful celebration of solidarity among Nottinghamshire miners in the strike from 1984-85.

Following the trajectory of six Nottinghamshire miners, Wonderland presents the harsh realities that derived from the National Coal Board’s attempts to close collieries. From moments of dark humour, to moments of genuine struggle- Wonderland encapsulates the Nottinghamshire mining identity, whilst illuminating the hardships that the miners suffered.

The set design was fabulous, with the confined and enclosed set capturing the underground world that the miners worked in. The use of the cage revealed how claustrophobic the conditions were for the miners. Witnessing a power failure which resulted in the miners becoming trapped in the hanging cage reinforced the poor conditions that the miners endured every day. Furthermore, the contrasting set of the picket line was an accurate representation of the strike.

“The use of haze was particularly successful”

Particular credit goes out to Jack Knowles, the lighting designer, who managed to create an environment where I felt like I was underground. The use of haze was particularly successful in creating an environment where the entire auditorium felt as though it was closing in on me. It was incredibly important to experience this closing in to understand the harsh realities of mining life. Moreover, the inclusion of singing and dancing was beautiful, with the strong Nottinghamshire dialects and the humble lyrics of the songs reinforcing the solidarity of the miners.

The dialect that the actors used was particularly important, with the actors using strong Nottinghamshire accents and mentioning familiar areas in Nottinghamshire, the story reminded audience members, many of whom would have had relatives who’d have been directly affected by the miners’ strike, that these harsh realities, both the poor conditions that the miners worked, in and the strike were occurring extremely close to home. The audience received this closeness to home extremely well, with a well-deserved standing ovation at the end indicating this.

“I sympathised with the miners’ plight”

As a young audience member who didn’t live through the miners’ strike, a lot of the dialogue illuminated to me how truly hardworking the miners were, with Ian MacGregor, played by Robin Bowerman, revealing that he would work a seven day week without a rest day for eight weeks. This was particularly shocking for me; I have grown up with the understanding that there is typically a five-day working week. In this sense, I sympathised with the miners’ plight even more and knew that I could never anticipate the physical exhaustion that they endured on a daily basis.

This, perhaps, acted as an invocation to the audience to not forget the legacy of the manufacturing industry and how hard and tiring manual labour is. This invocation is particularly important for a contemporary audience; manual labour is often sneered upon and not deemed as a successful livelihood. Therefore, this important reminder acts to preserve the legacy of the miners, as well as to remind a contemporary audience of the physical demands of manual labour.

The use of humour was often instigated by David Hart, played by Jamie Beamish, who was an advisor to Prime Minister of the time, Margaret Thatcher. When Hart first endures the reality of the pit, he begins to complain that there should be a water cooler installed in the pit for an inspection by the National Coal Board.

His instigation of humour was demeaning to the miners and reinforced the reality of life in the mines, with many of the miners suffering from heat rash, as well as spotlighting the economic disparity between the Conservative government and the miners. For me, this was definitely an illumination of something that I had not considered, as well as a  reminder to appreciate the luxury that is often taken for granted in modern life.

“The ending was quite rushed”

Although Wonderland was an extremely illuminating performance, I felt as though the ending was quite rushed. This had the capacity to be more emotional and heartfelt, but due to its rushed nature of the, I failed to completely immerse myself towards the end.

All in all, Wonderland was a provoking portrayal of the miners’ strike, with Colonel, played by Deka Walmsley, reiterating at the end of the play that ‘there is nothing finer than being a worker.’ This emotional line was a beautiful encapsulation of the hardworking nature of the miners and that this is something that a contemporary audience should not forget.


Rosa Morgan

Images courtesy of Darren Bell

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