Chris Eldon Lee reviews ‘Shafted’, which is at the New Vic in Newcastle Under Lyme until Saturday 2nd April – and touring nationally.
This is a highly deceptive play. It’s short and seemingly slight – but it’s one of those enigmatic pieces of writing where the spaces between the lines speak volumes.
Those who are old enough know the story. Margaret Thatcher decimated the lives of thousands of British pit workers by removing their living and – in many cases – their will to live. In John Goder’s latest play – suitable entitled ‘Shafted’ (get it?) – we rub shoulders with just one miner, Harry and his wife Dot, thirty years after the strike.
Harry is the Everyman of mining. He’s a stubborn, obstinate man who still can’t shake off the huge injustice of what happened to him and his community. He’s a man who is seriously struggling; drunk and drugged into gentle inertia.
He wife is made of sterner stuff and worries at him like a dog with a rag. We could have been in for 90 minutes of domestic bickering…but the writing is too sparse and much too clever for that. And the acting is excellent.
It’s a rare treat these days to see Mr and Mrs Godber on stage together. John and his wife Jane Thornton give brave, immaculately timed, uncompromising performances as they explore, in snaps shots, what has happened to them since Harry lost his job and his pride. The writing is rough and ready; it almost has the feel of an uncorrected draft…which makes for a hugely authentic evening.
The scenes are embryonic. It’s a play of moments. Godber draws dots on the page and it’s up to the audience to join them up.
And there are some brilliant observations. Shortly after the strike so many men tried to set up in business, the housing estates were awash with window cleaners. A quarter of a century later, Harry can’t stop himself chinning a retired police officer at a Christmas party. Finally prized from the pit, he and Dot start up a B&B in Bridlington…which overlooks not the sea, but a local funeral parlour. And he finds himself visiting the Mining Museum with painful regularity.
Godber knows his stuff or course. He lived through the thick of it. And it’s his intimate knowledge that gives him permission to say so much by leaving so much unsaid.
We are guided by time line captions….so we always know the year and place of each vignette. But just as we get used to the convention, it’s fractured. The flash-forward to their ultimate fate gives the seaside sojourn so much more poignancy.
There have been plays set against the demise of mining before, but this long view gives us the whole human story.
It’s an innovative evening, expertly executed and wonderfully restrained. Those who prefer their theatre to be more obvious may have reservations. Those who enjoy seeing it turned on its head will be well rewarded.
Visit www.newvictheatre.org.uk for bookings & more information about New Vic Theatre
Photo ; Amy Charles