Life Below, directed by Dec Kelly and produced by LS6 Theatre, beautifully captures the grit, purpose and determination that characterised the lives of those affected by the tragedies endemic to the coal mining industry. The performance is magnificently brought to life through the use of well-selected music, evocative special effects and remarkably believable performances.
The performance tells two stories, which unfold at different points in history and involve different generations of the same family. One takes place in 1849 and is built around the despair of children forced to work in the pits, the economic consequences for families of the Miners Act 1849 which forbade women and children from working in the mines, and the devastating impact that life in the pit had on the workers’ physical and mental health. The second takes place in 1984 and follows a young couple trying to start a family amidst pit closures and increasingly violent confrontations between police and strikers.
The story of 1849 struck effortlessly at the heart of the dual tragedies facing miners at the time—dust from the mines was destroying the workers’ lungs whilst the economic precarity destroyed families, making miners angry and hopeless. This conflict is captured well by blazing arguments between Mary (Amy Kaye) and Tony (Charlie Crozer), which become increasingly heated as the pressure increases.
A particularly moving scene follows a conversation between Jack and a fellow miner that takes place in a mining pit. They discuss watching their father deteriorate before their eyes, coughing up dust and lashing out at their families as they realise what the mine has done to them. Crucially, a smoke machine creates a sense of being in the pit. This use of special effects is engaging in a way that few shows dealing with such serious subject matter can manage.
The stand out performance, too, is to be found in the story that takes place in 1849. Mary and Tony have a young son, Jack (Oran Cosimini), whose portrayal of the boundless optimism in the face of such difficult circumstances is as convincing as it is heartbreaking. It is this which makes Jack’s demise in the pit all the more gut wrenching, elevating the show as a whole.
The story taking place in 1984 follows Rosie (Maddie Bell) and Ted (Luke Holland) as they argue about politics and the correct degree of involvement in the strikes against Margaret Thatcher’s pit closures. Rosie’s appetite for strikes and social justice is eminently believable, as is Ted’s exasperation at the situation and his concern for his heavily pregnant wife. The bubbling frustration between them as their desires clash and they become increasingly unable to see things from each other’s perspective lays the groundwork for an exuberant ending when the two reconcile over the birth of their child, to be named Jack.
Life Below is a well performed and impressive piece of theatre which treats a delicate subject matter with the respect that it deserves. The fantastic performances all round and thoughtful production make it a must see.
Words by Charley Weldrick
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