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Theatre Review: Wonderland

19 February 18 words: Adrian Reynolds

Coal strike drama Wonderland explores a faultline that still runs through Notts today...

Every now and then you get to see a play that shows you just what theatre is capable of. Playwright Beth Steel’s dad was a miner at Welbeck Colliery and she’s written a script hewn, not just from his experience but, from that of generations of people in the county. It’s visceral, angry, funny, and if it doesn’t make you cry I’ll be unlikely to have a drink with you any time soon.

The play’s brilliance is shown in how it manages to have a broad scope while staying focused on a small group of men whose labours ensured Britain got the power that allowed people to make food, build cars, stay warm and watch television. On that small screen, we’d follow the latest developments of a strike that signalled the destruction of the union movement, by a government in thrall to notion of the free market.

American economist Milton Friedman was the theorist who Thatcher pledged allegiance to and the play introduces him as a character early on. It’s a skilful device, allowing for wider issues to be explored, and we’re similarly introduced to the men ordered by Thatcher to put the miners in their place.

Part of the script’s power is how it transitions from those elite players to men at the coalface whose lives are all about loyalty; who, thanks to their union, have won small victories over the decades that make their lives easier than those of their fathers. There is a danger of the play becoming polemic, however there is a streak of humour running through it, as well as a measured approach to the play’s villains, ensuring that Wonderland is vital and moving throughout.

Designer Morgan Large does an excellent job with a set that brings the mine to life, complete with coalface, tunnels and lift. Effective use of lighting helps translate that setting into others as the action shifts between locations.

It’s a story about masculinity as much as anything; exploring the way that potentially dangerous work creates a sense of community among miners. It’s that very kinship which is destroyed by a government intent on establishing its dominance through power and deceit over working-class solidarity.

Wonderland is at Nottingham Playhouse until Saturday 24 February 2018. 

Nottingham Playhouse website