Gary Clarke’s COAL may well be the most populist thing he’s done, given much of his previous work tended towards the abstracted side of contemporary dance, but that’s not to say it is lacking in passion. A tribute to his miner father, it’s cheeky, muscular and at times incredibly potent, at its best when dealing with human frailty. Focusing on the plight of the miners during the mid-80s in the village of Grimethorpe, Clarke’s ensemble work is frenetic, as they sing and work together, with a choreography as robust and sweaty as it is spirited and folksy.
The five dancers (Alistair Goldsmith, James Finnemore,Nicolas Vendange, Joss Carter and PJ Hurst) flail wildly ; enjoy hi-jinx in bonding sessions , or occasionally are like grubs on the ground, crawling on their bellies. One powerful segment sees them move in slow-motion to the more elegiac section of the soundtrack. But the black balloon representing tar in the lungs is the hardest image to scrub away.These scenes hit hardest, and although Eleanor Perry’s portrayal of PM Margaret Thatcher shutting down the industry is an amusing caricature, it is no less pointed. The demented look in her eyes is keenly observed, as is the rope scene with a ‘scab’ crossing the picket line, clutching at her legs as she kicks him away.
Wives too get a (slight) look in, with TC Howard’s multi-tasking woman taken to absurdist extremes, like a Victoria Wood sketch on speed. She is joined on stage by local women, who join in The Slosh in a disco scene, and by the Kirkintilloch Brass Band, reinstating the heart of community which Thatcher ripped apart. Above all, this is the remit of COAL- a simple yet poignant message which still resonates through the decades, particularly in our contemporary battle-scarred Britain .