274 Views

“A moving symbol of cooperation and humanity” – COAL review

“This is not a show. It’s something else”, we’re told.

Gary Clarke’s dance performance of the life and decline of Britain’s mining communities is certainly something else. ‘Do you want to go see some miners and Mrs. Thatcher dancing about the 1984 strike?’ is perhaps one of the weirder questions you could be asked. Despite the apparent incongruity, just a few minutes in you realise that this is no gimmicky crossover – not a ‘let’s do something weird because why not’ approach to theatre.

Contemporary dance, it turns out, is the perfect vehicle for the story.

After a three-year run touring around the country, particularly stopping at communities associated with the coal mining industry, the award-winning COAL finally hit Brighton Dome this week. It’s perhaps appropriate, if accidental, that Brighton in 2018 is literally the last place you would take a production set among the tough physical work of the coal mines. But the second surprising thing one notices is that our audience responded just as powerfully.

We stared open-mouthed at the raw physicality; booed and hissed at Mrs. Thatcher; and tutted angrily at scab labour. (As an aside it’s tempting to note – amongst our relatively older audience – that Brighton always voted for Thatcher’s Conservatives, but since the show’s publicity says it doesn’t want to be political I’ll steer clear.)

COAL, like all great stories, has the winning combination: engrossing to watch, important in the story it wants to tell, but with an emotional core applicable far beyond its subject matter. The simple values of community, solidarity and dignity shine through every scene. Perhaps these values are rare in our day and age – take that nostalgia, couple it with a dash of inspiration and you get a profoundly moving and human piece that won over our audience just as it has across the country.

The writhing centrepiece of the performance is an engrossing 35 minute sequence set underground, five dancers interpreting the physicality of the back-breaking work. The success comes from a choreography which challenged the dancers physically to such an extent that an audience can’t help but genuinely feel for the performers. This was no shallow reflection of mining in dance – but a faithful study in movement, replicating the rough and repetitive actions of the work point for point.

Most striking is the community spirit amongst the five performers. Without breaking step, we see the men take their break halfway through the routine – by which point they and we are already fairly exhausted – only to begin all over again after a brief spot of cards, dance and banter. In one moment, one of the company having fallen with injury or fatigue has to be lifted by his fellow performers and, one by one, carried at a run around the stage. It was the gasp-inducing culmination of the painful work of dance and the painful work of mining coming together in a moving symbol of cooperation and humanity.

A special mention is deserved for the women of the cast. Their performance was both integral to the story – carrying almost all the dialogue they convened an underappreciated story of everyday strength and rebellion, executed just as impressively in performance.

The performers were all selected by Community Cast – bringing local people with no required theatre background into the roles for each different location on the tour, with just two days rehearsal time. The best compliment I can pay is that it was impossible to tell. But beyond that, as Clarke tells us in the post-show Q&A, ‘it would be wrong to make a show about community and not be part of it’. It’s another intriguing nod to the need to do a different kind of show which runs throughout the work.

COAL is proudly weird, exhausting, moving and thought-provoking. It hits the mark technically and carries its subject matter believably. But in the end, everyone should go and see it wherever you can, regardless of whether you think it’s for you at first glance. The heart, the humanity, and the simple values-driven approach to art are universal. It’s one of those works you didn’t know you needed until it was there. And whether in Brighton or Barnsley – we do need it.

Image Credit: Joe Armitage

Get the best viral stories straight into your inbox!

Don't worry, we don't spam

Leave a Reply

Join the Badger Team

Apply today!

Latest Posts

Union obliterates the debate – unwritten requirement used to shut down free speech debate
Campus News
250 views1
Campus News
250 views1

Union obliterates the debate – unwritten requirement used to shut down free speech debate

Jordan Wright - April 27, 2018

Student society Liberate the Debate’s most recent event was cancelled over a lack of compliance with the Students' Union's (USSU) requirement for a neutral chair - a…

Exhibition: Io-sono Fedilouu
Artist Focus
53 views
Artist Focus
53 views

Exhibition: Io-sono Fedilouu

Ricardo Reverón Blanco - May 16, 2018

Last week artist Fedilou made her debut exhibition in the downstairs space of Morelli Zorelli, a quaint vegan Italian restaurant in Hove, featuring a collection of intimate…

Interview with Philosophy faculty and COGS director Ron Chrisley
Interview
36 views
Interview
36 views

Interview with Philosophy faculty and COGS director Ron Chrisley

Nikolaos Manesis - May 15, 2018

Ron Chrisley is a Reader in Philosophy, on the faculty of the Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science, and is the director of COGS (Centre for Cognitive Science).…

Adam review
Arts
81 views
Arts
81 views

Adam review

Ketan Jha - May 13, 2018

If you have been a stranger to the stage this spring and decide to see one contemporary show, let it be Adam. This reviewer went in entirely…

Brighton Fringe Preview: Nick Cave Double Bill at The Old Market (TOM’s Film Club)
Arts
72 views
Arts
72 views

Brighton Fringe Preview: Nick Cave Double Bill at The Old Market (TOM’s Film Club)

Sophie Coppenhall - May 13, 2018

In celebration of iconic Brighton local, legendary alt-rock musician (and episodic actor) Nick Cave, TOM’s Film Club are hosting a double-bill screening of his films at The…

Whimsical fairy-tale meets class war – Standard: Elite review
Arts
88 views
Arts
88 views

Whimsical fairy-tale meets class war – Standard: Elite review

Georgia Grace - May 11, 2018

Meta-theatricality and interactivity are becoming all the more vogue in contemporary theatre, and in a world where the arts are becoming increasingly open and democratised, I find…

A Year of Art Society: The Best Picks
Artist Focus
80 views
Artist Focus
80 views

A Year of Art Society: The Best Picks

Alex Leissle - May 9, 2018

  [gallery type="slideshow" ids="35385,35386,35387,35388,35389,35390,35391,35392,35393,35394,35395,35396,35397,35398,35399,35400,35401,35402,35403,35404,35405,35406,35407,35408,35409,35410,35411"]

More Brit(ish) than ever: A review of Afua Hirsch at Brighton Festival
Books
68 views
Books
68 views

More Brit(ish) than ever: A review of Afua Hirsch at Brighton Festival

William Singh - May 9, 2018

Afua Hirsch’s 2018 book - part memoir, part polemic - provokes mixed feelings. So too did her discussion of the topic at this year’s Brighton Festival. Don’t…

Ethnic-bioweapons: between conspiracy and reality
Science
102 views
Science
102 views

Ethnic-bioweapons: between conspiracy and reality

Luke Richards - May 8, 2018

Bioweapons exist, while ethnic-bioweapons are whispered conspiracies. Pandemics can fairly hazardous to human life, the 1918 Flu Pandemic killed 20-50 million people. A man made pandemic could…

Breaking: Spring referenda results announced
News
143 views
News
143 views

Breaking: Spring referenda results announced

Jessica Hubbard - May 4, 2018

Students have voted to support the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement, reject Prevent and adopt new Gender Equality policies. Results for the Students' Union referenda were…

Why I’m Jewish AND I support BDS
Comment
141 views
Comment
141 views

Why I’m Jewish AND I support BDS

Sarah McIntosh - May 2, 2018

The idea of a land where my religious identity is welcomed and where I feel safe to be myself and live in peace is a beautiful idea…

Student research happening at Sussex
Features
126 views
Features
126 views

Student research happening at Sussex

Nikolaos Manesis - May 1, 2018

(Image source: Flickr, Pixabay, Wikipedia) Another academic year is coming to a close and with it, the last edition of The Badger. To celebrate our last science…

Sussex Festival cancelled
Campus News
176 views
Campus News
176 views

Sussex Festival cancelled

Jordan Wright - April 30, 2018

The Students’ Union have cancelled their highly anticipated end-of-term event Sussex Festival: Desert Island Disco, which was due to begin on Saturday May 12th. The Students’ Union…

Students’ Union President Gustafsson and Liberate the Debate respond to the cancelled event
Comment
194 views
Comment
194 views

Students’ Union President Gustafsson and Liberate the Debate respond to the cancelled event

Jordan Wright - April 27, 2018

These comment pieces represent the opinions of both the Students' Union and Liberate the Debate with regards to the  recent cancellation of the Society's freedom of speech…

Artist Focus: Rory Hinshelwood
Artist Focus
131 views
Artist Focus
131 views

Artist Focus: Rory Hinshelwood

Louisa Hunt - April 25, 2018

Rory Hinshelwood studies Zoology with Spanish at Sussex. His brand is called Poplar St., at the moment the brand sell embroidered high-quality t-shirts. Rory works mostly in graphics…

Artist Focus: Maayan Cohen
Artist Focus
96 views
Artist Focus
96 views

Artist Focus: Maayan Cohen

Emma Phillips - April 24, 2018

The Badger spoke with Sussex University’s Maayan Cohen about her creative workshop, ‘Bits and Pieces.’ Can you tell us a bit about Bits and Pieces- what’s the…

Voodoo enthralls at The Old Market – review
Arts
105 views
Arts
105 views

Voodoo enthralls at The Old Market – review

Ricardo Reverón Blanco - April 24, 2018

As part of South East Dance’s micro-festival, Undisciplined, Voodoo comes to being as a collaboration between South East Dance and Project O. Project O brings artists Alexandrina…

Arts
109 views

Trial & error: Sex, sass and foolishness through dance

Ricardo Reverón Blanco - April 24, 2018

For the concluding show of South East Dance’s micro-festival, Double Bill brings two short performances to The Old Market’s stage: Comebacks I thought of later by Eleanor…

An evening with Candoco Dance Company – review
Arts
166 views
Arts
166 views

An evening with Candoco Dance Company – review

Georgia Grace - April 24, 2018

Last week at the Attenborough Centre, the phenomenally unique and refreshing dance company Candoco brought to the stage a double bill of performances exploring identity, community and…

Jake Bugg at Brighton Dome
Arts
159 views
Arts
159 views

Jake Bugg at Brighton Dome

Matthew Nicholls - April 19, 2018

Following the release of his Fourth Studio album ‘Hearts that Strain’ in September 2017, Jake Bugg decided he wanted an intimate tour, and that is exactly what…