In the famous poem ‘First they came …’ by Pastor Niemöller specific groups are identified, targeted and destroyed one by one leaving no else when ‘they’ came for him. That stark message of an absence of unity and blind eyes being turned to terror rings true in this important, informative and unsettling play.
Based on true stories and events from the 1984 – 1985 miners’ strike, this visceral one-man show (written and performed by Danny Mellor and originally titled Shafted) outlines the brutal impact collectively and individually on a mining community, where principles are challenged and compromised, friendships are made and ultimately shattered by circumstances and state sanctioned blood-letting is deployed.
Mellor powerfully delivers a monologue as ‘Yorkshire Dale’ (backed contextually by pop hits of the time e.g. ‘Relax’, ‘The heat is on’) that charts these tumultuous two years of adversity and the systematic destruction of a working community. A community that believed that striking was a fundamental democratic necessity and a long-sighted plan of action as echoed in the chant ‘Enough’s enough, we’ll always need the black stuff’. Through his eyes and expressions we hear of the fates of others’ and how solidarity and harmony fall prey to divide and conquer tactics aided by a pliant media, strong-armed law enforcement and secret surveillance. Mellor inhabits and (re)lives the travails of all the characters, you feel the anguish and despair and in spite of the spite humour always shines through.
The Sun ‘news’-paper, that toxic organ of officialdom had the temerity to call the miners ‘lazy’ and ‘the enemy within’ a label most associated with the paranoid propaganda of World War II: colonise the consciousness, control the outcomes. All depressingly relevant today.
This framing of perception saw miners played off against each other and even derided as ‘scabs’ by those who had no understanding or involvement in the struggle: the media is the messenger and the message is ‘Thatcherite neoliberalism is here to stay’. The ‘publically’ funded BBC fared no better, fostering the view that the miners were workshy layabouts whereas the horse mounted police were knightly heroes on overtime oiling the wheels of tyranny. None more so than during the infamous Battle of Orgreave where police brutality indiscriminately attacked all and sundry including ex-servicemen who had fought in World War II.
As we have seen more and more often, there are several reasons why media studies should be on the school curriculum (despite the mocking tones of Boris Johnson et al). The pernicious role of the media throughout these two years is but one.
The lives of the characters go from ‘LIFE is’ to ‘life IS’, an upheaval that shifts the emphasis from living to struggling to exist as typified by the refusal of money for a new-born’s funeral as punishment for striking. There truly is NO such thing as society.
In these times of slacktivism and clicktivism this is a reminder of people power and how that notion scares the authorities, therefore, it must be crushed either violently or scandalously.
The overall and ever contemporary message is ‘what we do in hardship is more measure of man’. Don’t let the bastards grind you down.