Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Pitmen...

If you were to draw up a list of northern stereotypes, you'd quickly get through the flat caps, Yorkshire pudding and pigeons and find yourself scribbling down "miners". I've never kept pigeons, never worn a flat cap but I have eaten Yorkshire puddings. And I was in Doncaster, at a place called Edlington, during the mid-Eighties miners' strike. I wasn’t a miner and got nowhere near a pit – I was working for a builder and we were building a massive extension at the back of a bookies – but the contract began at the start of the strike and ended when the strike did. It’s a peripheral experience that’s stayed with me – watching the miners march through the streets of Edlington to the tune of their own colliery band, brave in their Thatcher-imposed defeat and knowing their days down the pit were numbered was incredibly moving. I, and a lot of other people, applauded these men, who were, after all those months on strike, looking unusually clean. We also knew that we were witnessing the end of an era and the end of Britain as an industrial power.

I’d never dream of writing about miners. Indeed, when I first got involved with the theatre I’ve been lucky enough to have stuff performed at, I remember giving a heartfelt monologue to a roomful of people that weren’t interested in what I had to say that would basically boil down to something like, “I don’t want to write about the north. I don’t want to write about the working class or working class heroes. I don’t want to write a work play. I don’t want to write about any specific place. I want to write bigger, universal stories. Set in…erm…rooms and that.” Then I wrote a play about an all-Hull rugby final, then a play about a Hull rugby player, and now I’m writing what may well have been a work play about some blokes from up the road. If I’d lived in Doncaster when I was putting inkjet printer to paper, I no doubt would have written a play about miners. So, I suppose, scratch that ‘I’d never dream of writing about miners’ – it’s probably coming to a theatre near you in 2009.

Except, I can’t write one now, as Lee Hall, of Lee Hall fame, has beaten me to it with his Pitmen Painters, which sounds like a damn good play based on real-life events. And, of course, it’s not really northern. It sounds as universal as they come.

We've got this divide, that existed for the Ashington miners and is still there today, between what one lot of people seem entitled to in terms of culture and another lot aren't. There's this terrible lie perpetrated by those who sell us this rubbish that only certain people can have access to great culture and the rest don't need to know about it and wouldn't like it if they did.
I’m writing this from the offices of an opera company. Hmmmf. There's an interview with Mr Hall in today's Independent.

I like the cut of Lee Hall’s jib. But I’m not sure that what he says about the Northern voice happens to be true.
There is a particular Northern voice, one that understands the absurdities of the world and comes across in a comic way.
I’m sure those in the south understand the absurdities of the world and can get it all across in a comic way too. Can’t they?

3 comments:

bazza27 said...

It's always dangerous to stereotype, "Southern Softies" "Scouse Scally's" etc, or use phrases such as "Big Girl's Blouse", but sometimes we just can't help ourselves can we? I suppose the issue for me is when does jest turn to malice and how can you tell?

Dave W said...

I'm not sure but I think it's somewhere around the time that a fist lands on your nose. I jest, of course.
The world's too complicated a beast for me, we all need to stop thinking and drink more instead.

bazza27 said...

Now you're talking.