The Pathhead Halls on the corner of Commercial Street and Broad Wynd, Kirkcaldy, Fife were built in 1882, originally as a theatre and music hall although one room was later used for many years by a Spiritualist Church. Yet it’s perfectly feasable that it also could have been used for public meetings during the ill-fated miners’ strike of 1926. It’s therefore a genuinely cogent location for a revival of an all-too-overlooked work of Scottish theatre.
In Time O’ Strife was written by Fife miner Joe Corrie and initially toured around Scotland during 1926 by a band of amateur actors to help raise funds for soup-kitchens for striking miners and their families. Yet it was also an attempt to communicate with the wider public and tell their side of the story–about the stoic refusal of mining communities, in the aftermath of the General Strike, to work far longer hours for half their previous pay. To re-humanise, in other words, the people damned by a unity of mine owners, politicians and newspapers fearful of Marxist revolution in the coalfields.
So there is certainly passion to be found in this tale of families holding out against starvation and poverty; authenticity too, as Corrie was a born-and-bred member of the community he boldy put on stage. This is arguably on a par with Sean O’Casey’s Dublin plays in terms of its political import, if not necessarily its artistic technique. And yet, unlike O’Casey’s work, this powerful, working-class drama has been largely overlooked. This “remix” by director and designer Graham McLaren, for the National Theatre of Scotland, is only its second revival in almost 90 years.
The vibrancy of this production is undeniable, thanks to both the music provided live by a three-piece band (who give some of Corrie’s own poetry, and a few traditional songs, a right ol’ kick up the arse) and the decision to express parts of the emotional narrative through brutal, thrawn choreography (created by Imogen Knight). On occasions it’s uncomfortable viewing, thanks to that very humanisation of the people, families and communities which, six decades later, Thatcher would declare “the enemy within”. Yet McLaren’s “remix” often abandons the moral complexity and subtlety of the original, not least by adding a montage of audio and visual sound-bites from the 1984-85 miners strike.
It would be easy to dismiss this play as nothing more than an historical curiosity, a proto-“kitchen-sink drama” from decades before that particular genre became fashionable. Yet, even if it’s not the best of that particular breed, this is a story that needs to be told and, on the whole, is told with heart and vigour.