REVIEW – Close the Coalhouse Door, Gala Theatre, Durham, until June 16

Northern Stage- Live Theatre production of'CLOSE THE COAL HOUSE DOOR'by Alan Plater'directed by Sam West
Northern Stage- Live Theatre production of'CLOSE THE COAL HOUSE DOOR'by Alan Plater'directed by Sam West
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THE eyes of Meryl Streep playing Margaret Thatcher stare out at the audience from a billboard advertising The Lady.

For many in the North East, particularly those under 30, that’s what the word “mining” brings to mind – the end of the industry, and the woman blamed for its demise.

Fitting, then, that it is from the aforementioned poster that the actors in Close the Coalhouse Door burst out to tell of a history of struggle which runs much deeper than Coal not Dole badges.

More than 40 years after Jarrow’s Alan Plater wrote Close the Coalhouse Door, the play has been brought back by the Live Theatre and Northern Stage, updated with additional material by Lee Hall.

The mines are gone now, of course, but the backdrop of austerity, concern over growing inequality and public dissatisfaction are very much present.

The play is brought to life by a strong cast, delivering powerful performances of Plater’s dialogue and the songs of Alex Glasgow.

It charts the story of the miners’ struggle in three acts, from the founding of the unions, through the mid-war years to hopes of nationalisation “utopia” – and the start of the pit closures which ensued under the Labour Government.

As well as the history, the play also encapsulates the rich culture of mining communities and the humour and spirit of those who toiled in the belly of the earth to warm the homes and power the businesses of the nation.

All this is with a heavy dose of ingenious humour. But while it is a fantastically entertaining play, that is not its sole aim.

Dubbed the “Oh What a Lovely War” of mining, the play is in the tradition of communist playwright Bertolt Brecht.

Dotted with his namesake Brechtian devices, aimed at breaking the audience’s suspension of disbelief and bringing them back to its central message – one of oppression, the potential for change and the need for struggle to achieve it.

Ross Robertson