For the London launch there was a brass band and Miners Union banners. It's unlikely if you go you'll get all that, and that's a shame, but you might get the photo exhibition and that is all you need. They are pictures from another world and a necessary lesson for anyone who thinks putting on fancy dress and acting up in front of the nation's most famous monuments is real protest or indeed that being hemmed in by the Met's finest is police oppression. The pictures show tooled up coppers on horseback hunting people down suburban streets in northern towns; they show ordinary folk really repping their endz against the state.
The Miners Strike of the mid 1980s is the backdrop to Maggie's End which shows how the death of Margaret Thatcher reopens old wounds and divides generations of the same family. In some ways this makes it the best of the Thatcher plays (we are now up to four and two TV shows) and its timing during the current economic crisis - the first proper one since she was in power - also helps. The drama provokes old radicals and shows up New Labour whilst offering a glimpse into one world the Iron Lady destroyed. Not the solid pit communities or insular steel towns but the lefty polytechnic lecturer and his radical lawyer wife. It provides belly laughs for those who still have a bit of fire in theirs and attempts to offer younger folk a history of our times from an era when another world view was possible.
This is a tricky task to perform and the competent cast does their best with a script that's attempting to do several things at once including trying to fight the battles of the present with the weapons of the past; in this case radical theatre. Ironically it probably won't play well in London, where a history of those times is most needed, but if you are from elsewhere and have relatives visiting this is definitely worth seeing. Even if only to ask them, in the manner of the old war posters; “So dad (uncle, aunt.. delete where applicable) what did you do during the miners' strike?” This should result in plenty of conversation afterwards. Yes the play does whiff of agitprop but the characters are all very believable and if some of the targets are predictable and if some of the lefty dreaming goes a bit far at least it's nice to see some different dreams. Because let's face it the more recent crop of “ideals” look like they've sold us a bit short of late.
By Chris Roberts
Maggie's End is at The Shaw Theatre, Euston Road until 18 April. Tickets £18/12. Interval performance by Arthur Smith on Friday 10th April. Book online or call 0871 594 3 123.