Political theatre can be somewhat consuming with a thin line between conveying a message and attempting to shove an entire ideology down one’s throat in the mere space of an hour. Much to my joy however Undermined is balanced and genuine; even the most politically exhausted could not contend its entertainment factor.
‘One man, one chair, one pint.’ Undermined is exactly that. Only do not be deterred by the prospect of a one-man-show in which the actor is to breathlessly spout political anecdotes at his audience for sixty-five minutes. Written by performer Danny Mellor, it is a fresh, humorous and utterly engaging piece.
Mellor, pint in hand, divulges tales of brutality, frustration and conflict, all of which were imposed on miners during the strikes in South Yorkshire in the mid-eighties. His character is bolshie, resilient and full of optimism as he sets out at the start of his story. He relays the courage of the young men fighting for their right to work, describing the protests of men in their hundreds who shout ‘coal not dole’. However, as the fears of defeat and unemployment become a reality for the miners, acts of aggression and depression begin to unfold. We are left with a hopeless sense of pity. It feels wrong to pity these characters, as they are the kind of people who would never wish to be pitied. Perhaps that is why the show works so well. It doesn’t ask for our sympathy or our kindness yet we give it in abundance. All the miners want is work and dignity. Yet both of these seemingly ordinary things are ripped away from them.
Mellor is an absolute delight. It is a challenge in itself to pull off a one-man-show but to execute it with such a high level of command and finesse really is quite something. He is an engaging actor and a natural performer. He holds the audience’s undivided attention with ease and never seems to waver in conviction. His writing is natural and witty. The humour and fun of this piece keeps it alive and contrasts brilliantly with the tragic nature of the subject matter. I laughed and cried intermittently throughout; it is a wonderfully written play.
Undermined is an utter breath of fresh air in a theatrical climate that has become swamped with unsubtle and frankly depressing political theatre that seems to have forgotten that in order for us to care about a message we must first care about a character. This play is an absolute honour to the mining community and from one South Yorkshire soul to another I say thank you, it was truly superb.
Undermined played at the Wilton’s Music Hall until March 25. It continues to tour throughout 2017.