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Wonderland

  • Theatre, Drama
  • 3 out of 5 stars
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Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

Shining darkly with sweat and coal-dust, the men in Beth Steel’s ‘Wonderland’ fight for their livelihood against the machinations of Thatcher’s government. Where Steel’s first play ‘Ditch’ imagined a bleak future for the UK, waterlogged and patrolled by fascist bullyboys, here she looks to the past, and her research leads her to a true story that’s almost as dire.

Steel crafts a typical story from the miners’ strike of the mid-1980’s, packed with stoic regional wit and gently overdriven stereotypes. The north of ‘Wonderland’ is the north of ‘Billy Elliot’ and ‘Brassed Off’. The clash between salt-of-the-earth workers and the pampered demons of Thatcher’s government is familiar but evocative and, here, skilfully drawn. It’s funny enough, sad enough, and with a clarity in its emotional journey that only occasionally slips into the naive and obvious.

Director Edward Hall sets his production to a wonderful rumbling chorus of miners’ working songs, as the cast strive and toil against Ashley Martin-Davis’s set. It’s a technical masterpiece of moving platforms and shifting grates, populated by an army of performers in helmets and torches who heft shovels of coal and pit-props through the dark. As spectacular as this all is, however, the play often feels swamped by it, echoing in a cavernous excess of flashy stagecraft.

Elsewhere the plotting overwhelms itself, as while the miners’ struggle is always compelling, aided by powerful performances such as Paul Brennan’s gruff old-hand colonel, parallel London scenes of cardboard Tory schemes are overcooked and unnecessary. They deliver exposition in huge, unwieldy chunks, rather than allowing the characters we care about to gradually bring it to the surface.

It’s this lack of restraint, in both plotting and realisation, which holds Steel’s story back from greatness, but it’s still tear-jerking, chest-thumping stuff.

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£29-£32, £18-£15 concs
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