Loss and sacrifice – two things which typify both this engaging dance theatre piece, and the events that inspired it. Growing up in South Yorkshire, choreographer Gary Clarke experienced first-hand life in a mining community before and after the 1984 strike. Consequently, there is an authenticity to COAL few could match.
Over half of this 90-minute show occurs prior to the strike, building a graphic picture of the hard toil, comradeship and community spirit which underpinned the industry.
Descending into the mine, five male dancers are quickly soot-streaked and sweating. Repetitive hard labour in cramped conditions gives way to a banter-filled break time, before Clarke leaves us in no doubt about the risks these men faced daily, from both accidents and ill-health.
In one particularly powerful scene, a miner lies on the floor struggling to breathe – then slowly blows up a black balloon, making visual the dust-filled lungs inside his chest.
Meanwhile, back home, wives are holding the fort and welcoming their men back with clean clothes and sustenance. Here played by four local women with links to pit communities in the Glasgow area – a nice touch extended to the live brass music by Kirkintilloch Band.
Reunited after a day’s work, the couples head out to unwind with a drink and a dance. An astute move by Clarke because such moments only occur when you feel you’ve earned it, and have the money to pay for it, both of which are cruelly stripped away when the strike comes, leaving all crushed in its wake.