REVIEW: Shafted! by Rotherham Repertory, Civic Theatre.

A COPPER playing a striking miner who rants against police brutality during the year-long pits strike is an unexpected irony in John Godber's heart-breaking but heart-warming comedy epic.
Richard Wilshaw plays ex-miner Harry alongside Polly Lovegrove as his wife Dot (photo by Kerrie Beddows)Richard Wilshaw plays ex-miner Harry alongside Polly Lovegrove as his wife Dot (photo by Kerrie Beddows)
Richard Wilshaw plays ex-miner Harry alongside Polly Lovegrove as his wife Dot (photo by Kerrie Beddows)

Richard Wilshaw, a longstanding police officer, plays ex-miner Harry, who in one scene even punches out a boastful retired "Met" policeman at a party years after the end of the strike.

But Wilshaw, alongside Polly Lovegrove as his wife Dot, who are joint directors, produce superb performances to paint a luminous portrait of the anger, humour, pride, defiance, bitterness and love which typified life in pit villages in the 30 years that followed the defeat of 1984-85.

Gritty and honest, Godber's play - first performed by him and his wife Jane Thornton - is simply a touching and beautiful slice of honest theatre. It's bleak, but full of that kind of gallows' comedy springing out of resilience and injustice. Though nothing is made the wave of the massive revolt against the Tory government's 31 pit closures in 1992.

From a mining family himself, Godber has captured all the emotions of the strike ending, closures, decimation of jobs and livelihoods - the desolation, destruction and depression which replaced the pride and determination of the year-long battle. Maggie Thatcher does not get off lightly here. Godber is unequivocally on the side of the men and women who fought back. Film clips and an audio of a Scargill speech on the closure of 70 collieries, underlines the point.

Set in Upton, near Pontefract - where miner's son Godber grew up - the couple first appear shouting "The miners united would never be defeated." Picket lines - marked by a symbolic picket fence - and the central role of women are recalled. The action moved forward in the first act then back from 2014 in the second, cleverly allowing reflection on the passage of time.

The acting is top drawer, the characterisations and moments that sew the years together, evoking so many memories, are wonderfully crafted. Timeline photo captions and cleverly chosen pop music from the time, plot the course. Short, sharp scenes, perfect timing. Through arguments, drinking and smoking joints, Dot's two jobs, Harry refusing to touch his redundancy money, bereavement and more. From window cleaning, banana counting to gnome painting, from the home they have always lived in to a new beginning running a B and B in Bridlington.

"The strike was the best year of my life," has been said to me numerous times. Shafted they were, but not without a fight - one that will see the strike's 40th anniversary next March.

Like thousands of others in mining areas, Harry and Dot are battlers to the end. They might have to visit the coal mining museum these days but the fighting spirit lives on. As they say at the end, "We'll take them all on."

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