There is nothing like a timely reminder from the past. For the Millennial Generation, Gen Z and some of the politically and socially unaware of Generation X, The Collie’s Shed might be no more than an angry tale of small-town life. But for those who lived through the miners’ strike, 1984-85, and the Thatcher years it is a slice of harsh reality that divided families and tore communities apart.
A slice of harsh reality that divided families and tore communities apart
The setting is the eponymous local Men’s Shed in East Lothian. For those not familiar with the term, Men’s Sheds are ‘community spaces for men to connect, converse and create’. In this particular Shed, four retired miners meet as a review into the policing of the miners’ strikes is under way and the Scottish Parliament is considering a Miners Pardon Bill. This legislation was thought to be necessary to clear those who had received criminal records as participants in some of the most violent industrial action the county had ever seen, with police using cavalry and batton charges against those protesting to protect their jobs.
East Lothian and Edinburgh based theatre maker and performer, Shelley Middler has constructed the play based on the real stories and experiences of people who lived through the events. It’s neatly structured in three scenes. The opening introduces the four characters: Billy, Tom, Charlie and Glen, the last of whom arrives unexpectedly and is a source of bitternes and resentment, as he left the area and joined the police force in England. Scene two is a flashback to the events themselves as a younger cast takes over to portray the men at the time of the action, their involvement and the debates in which they participate. The third scene returns to the older men as they attempt to reconcile their differences and move forward.
It’s an apposite arrangement of material that conveys not just the events but the long-lasting effects of what took place. The youthful middle section, in particular, reveals the passions that were aroused, the sacrifices that were made and the extent to which relationships became inflamed. These are referenced again by the older men as they look back on events and they give a sense as to how deeply rooted those feeling were and how they still impact on their lives today.
Levels of performance vary but there is no doubting the conviction demonstrated in this play and its importance as a reminder of the sacrifices that were made, particularly as we face another potential ‘winter of discontent’.