The language of John Godber’s latest work Shafted! is simple and conversational. Godber confessed, during the post-show discussion, that this is the first draft of his play because he wants it to contain all the stumbles, imperfections and repetitions that are natural in our everyday speech patterns. He wanted it to have an improvised feel, and I must say that his desire for apparent spontaneity was granted. It truly felt like I was watching an older northern couple bicker through a series of passages of time.
Essentially, that is precisely what I did see: Godber and his wife, Jane Thornton, are exceptionally well-suited to their roles, though I’m assuming that they were written accordingly. Thornton plays the driven and optimistic wife of an ex-miner. The character’s practical yet imaginatively driven approach to life helps lead the couple into their new venture of running a bed and breakfast in Bridlington once the mines have been closed down. Harry – played, of course, by Godber – is unable, for much of the play, to acclimatise to his new role in life. He is no longer a miner. His grandfather was a miner, his father was a miner and Harry cannot fathom how Thatcher could bring, in his eyes, that legacy and identity to an end. Harry goes on to dabbles in drugs; this leads to a need for prescription medication, and with unemployment at an all-time low, it seems to be a steep downhill spiral for Harry. However, Dot is always there as his immovable rock and is the pragmatist who always sees her family back on track. Thornton plays Dot with maturity and understanding. She is torn between rebelling against the situation she has found herself in, while decisively knowing what she must do in order to survive in the new world that herself and Harry have been forced into.
It is curious as to why Godber decided now was the appropriate time to write a play about the miners’ strike, when it was of such prominence thirty years ago. Surely it is a playwright’s dream for such a huge political and social change to happen on your doorstep, culminating in an abundance of material. Godber explains the delay: he could not bring himself to make a profit out of the misery of the people around him. He then went on to say how so many plays, as we know, were written about the strike itself rather than the full and monumental impact it had afterwards on the people affected. This play, set over a period of years and coming all the way into 2015, is the only play that brings the true reality of those closures into the modern day and shows how the north of England is still very much in recovery.
Shafted! played the at the Cast Theatre until 20 February. For more information, see the Cast Theatre website. Photo: Amy Charles Media