National Theatre Square 2
This is a life-enhancing show in which a company from Amorebieta in the Basque Country of north-western Spain celebrates the lives and deaths of the coal miners of their region with song, dance, drama, fire, fireworks and great élan (and with all the essential dialogue in English)..
It is not quite the take on Spanish machismo you might expect for its central characters are Antonio (Jon Koldo Vázquez) who loves José (Fernando Barado), who's going to marry Carmen (Ana Isabel Martinez) - not that that is going to put Antonio off! From the moment he appears in work clothes and miner's helmet to welcome the audience to Coal Club, and then flips open a scarlet fan, you know you are going to be in for a good time. But this is not just a cabaret with a heart: its vitality is set against the brutal facts of the miners' lives; nor is it just the story of these three. Antonio seems gifted with a magic kiss of life that not only brings back from death the man he loves but through him a succession of lost miners.
The coal that fuels industry and warms the domestic hearth has always been won at cost, as we are reminded by what becomes a world in flames. As a funeral party enters, the priest's bible and the stairs to his pulpit are on fire; miner's helmets, even the pit canary's cage are burning. Flares and torches dazzle us and spectacularly bright explosions and billowing silks recreate pit disasters - all this excitingly up close among the audience, for this is a promenade production that takes place on moving platforms and on the ground not just up on the cabaret stage.
A woman waits for a man trapped underground; a bridegroom isn't going to make his wedding; a woman blows out the flames on a miner's helmet; a baby is dragged from the womb like a miner hauled from the pit. The tragedies mount and the memorial notices are endless in succession. The next one is blank: is it for you? 'No more dead' cry striking miners and the police move in with flailing batons. There is even a critical look as intolerance with the abuse of a woman who services the miner's (Itziar Rekalde) Sombre facts, but there is nothing depressing about this show. It is carried on a wave of joyous vitality.
Every time Antonio's kiss brings José back to life he complains, 'What do you think you're doing?' and reminds him that they are miners. It seems a love never to be properly requited and at the same time it is a celebration of loyalty and comradeship and I can guarantee an up-beat ending with frothing champagne and a shower of golden spangles that makes you want to dance for joy. You certainly won't have noticed that you have been standing for an hour while it has happened among and around you.
Until 15th August 2009
Reviewer: Howard Loxton