Elin Williams is at Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru to review Sian Summers’ Pan Oedd Y Byd Yn Fach, a play depicting the 1984 Miners’ Strike.
The Miners’ Strike of 1984 affected many families in Wales. 2014 marked the thirty year anniversary and there were many events around Wales that commemorated the strike and its legacy. The popular film Pride told the true story of the strike in the small village of Onllwyn and its association with an LGBT organisation based in London during this difficult time. Theatr Bara Caws’ production Garw also re-told this story from the perspective of an old miner struggling with life post-strike. Sion Eirian’s script won numerous awards in the Wales Theatre Awards, whilst Pride had several nominations in the BAFTAs and Golden Globes. The story of the strike is understandably well explored territory and is the focal point for Sian Summers’ script Pan Oedd Y Byd Yn Fach.
Set in a small Welsh mining village, the narrative follows five young men who struggle to place themselves within the strike and search for their own way to contribute. Kevin, the leader, decides that he and a few select friends will join the dangerous picket line to hurl abuse at the ‘scabs’ on the buses. Gareth Pierce’s Kevin is full of frustration and destructive energy which he wants to focus into joining the fight in order to show support for a job he will one day have to do himself. Billy, Kevin’s immature companion (played by Berwyn Pearce) follows his friend like a sheep into the situation, whilst Dyfed (Ceri Murphy) shows a little more perspective and argues that perhaps there’s no point in fighting what they cannot change. Privileged Oxford student Alun (Dyfed Cynan) also joins the fight, seeing this as his opportunity to be part of the gang once and for all. The only person who’s missing is Garyn, (Sion Ifan) Kevin’s cousin and fellow son of a miner. It transpires that whilst Kevin may be fuelling his frustration into joining the picket line for the simple reason of solidarity, there’s more behind his decision. Garyn’s dad, Kevin’s uncle, has decided to cross the picket line. The boys fight it out in convincing adolescent style, throwing punches and hurling profanities at each other when really, the strain on their families due to the strike is clearly to blame. In order to show his dedication to the cause, Kevin dares his cousin to put his money where his mouth is and join them at the picket line for everyone, including his dad, to see where his loyalties lie. Armed with homemade weapons, the boys head to the line.
The script is a perfect balance between light-hearted teenage exchange and frustrated outrage at their situation. The ensemble cast are entirely convincing as impassioned young men, although occasionally, they do speak over each other unintentionally and so some dialogue is lost. The first half of the play is enjoyable, but it is a little long winded; a lot less could be said and it would still have the same effect. The performances are outstanding and the story engaging, but it is not one that hasn’t been told before.
The second half of the play does offer something new, however: a thirty years later approach which enables us to see the long lasting effects of such a life-changing event. Indeed, the character’s lives have changed tremendously, and remembering back to the ominous shadow cast onto the back of the stage at the beginning of the play, the message becomes clear. The reason for the reunion isn’t a happy one and it is here we see the true wounds of 1984. It is the rabble rouser Kevin who has emerged from the strike worse than the others. This is particularly poignant when considering his former strength and passion for the cause. Therein lies the play’s main message: dedication and courage are not always rewarded with success.
The second act attempts to delve a little deeper and search for those long term consequences of such industrial upheaval. The character’s stories are much more intriguing and prompt uncomfortable questions in the minds of the audience. There are definite hints of Meic Povey’s Diwedd y Byd here with the story of young children in North Wales who are on the cusp of change. They are then reunited years later in Yr Hen Blant where the effects of certain events in the play are clearly visible.
The set is simple with a valley shaped mound made out of lino-like material. This suits the piece as the story is more about the development of the characters than anything else. Aled Pedrick’s direction is satisfyingly energetic in the first half with the contrast of a more composed second half to reflect the passing of time. The play may be overly-long in parts, and frankly, the first half is nothing new to audience members, but the second half of the play does offer something different; a glimpse into the impact of social and cultural change and that is something which is undoubtedly fascinating and provocative.
Image credit: Sherman Cymru