Sunday, July 14

The Collie’s Shed – Festival Theatre Studio

This short and powerful play has made an appearance on Edinburgh fringe for the last two years.  The Collie’s Shed now returns for a tour of Scotland’s central belt during the 40th anniversary year of the 1984 miners’ strike.   Written and directed by Shelley Middler, the play focuses on four retired coal miners, all of whom lost their jobs when their colliery, Bilston Glen, closed in the 1980s following a bitter and violent strike which pitted miners against each other and against the police.   Eight actors play four characters, with the action switching from 1984 to present day.  Some of the striking miners of the time were arrested and imprisoned for their part in the violent acts on the picket line, and the narrative begins with news of a review by the Scottish Parliament with the likelihood of a pardon for those miners who served time as a result.

The play opens with a soundscape played in blackout, and we recognise the voices of Scargill and Thatcher amongst the “Miners united, will never be defeated” mantra of the time.  When all eight actors appear on stage together, we see the old and young versions of each character as they speak in monologues under gold coloured spotlights.  The only flaw in an otherwise flawless production was that some of the actors weren’t quite in the spot, so their lines were spoken in shadow, but it seems almost churlish to point this out because there was so much energy on the stage it hardly mattered.  Francis Brewitt’s lighting design could do with a bit of tweaking at this point.  The minimalist set consists of four chairs and two tables strewn with Men’s Shed paraphernalia as we meet the older versions going about their retirement woodworky activities.  There is the loquacious Billy, (Kevin Parr), foot-in-both-camps Tommy (Alasdair Ferguson), emphysemic looking Charlie, (Stephen Corral) and diplomatic voice of reason Glen, (Paul Wilson).  Glen’s appearance in the shed, having returned home to Bilston after a career in England, (and in the police force no less), triggers old feelings of suspicion and bitter resentment from Billy, who clearly hasn’t moved on much in the last forty years.  These fine actors are completely convincing as old friends and colleagues, displaying all the nuances of a shared turbulent past, some more resigned to the present than others.

When the action moves to 1984 amidst the mayhem of militant action, the stage erupts with energy as we see the young Billy (Joey Locke), all angry angst, leading the protest with young Tommy (Calum Manchip).  Young Glen (Ben Robert Cunningham) joins in, and only young Charlie (John Gray) is dressed for work down the mine.  He has a family to feed, and he will endure shouts of “scab” to do right by them.   Locke is particularly impressive, displaying such physicality he looked fit to burst with energy and when Tommy receives a head wound from a police baton, Manchip’s performance is genuinely moving as he struggles to understand what he’s done to deserve such a beating.

I’ve never known an hour to pass so quickly.  The play was utterly engaging and zipped along at a pace in places, whilst allowing for plenty of light and shade, highs and lows, humour and pathos.  Keeping it simple is deceptively difficult, but by concentrating on real events and properly developed characters brilliantly acted, Middler has produced an excellent production well deserving of 4 stars!

Reviewer: H.S.Baker

Reviewed: 11th May 2024

North West End UK Rating: 4

The Collie’s Shed plays King’s Theatre, Kirkaldy on 16th May

Cumbernauld Theatre @ Lanternhouse on 18th May

Loretto Theatre, Musselburgh on 29th May

Fraser Centre, Tranent on 30th May

Community Theatre, Prestonpans on 31st May

Corn Exchange, Haddington on 1st June.