Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Land of our Fathers

Chris Urch
Theatre 503
Trafalgar Studios

Clive Merrison as Bomber and Patrick Brennan as Chopper Credit: Flavia Fraser-Canon
Taylor Jay-Davies as Chewy and Patrick Brennan as Chopper Credit: Flavia Fraser-Canon
Patrick Brennan as Chopper and Joshua Price as Mostyn Credit: Flavia Fraser-Canon

The tiny Theatre 503, above a pub in Clapham, has become a serious new writing force which saw The Mountaintop transfer to the West End and then Broadway.

By one of those serendipitous coincidences that sometimes leave three Hamlets opening in a single week, this summer the theatrical world is focusing its attention on the demise of the mining industry on several different fronts.

Land of Our Fathers, another 503 discovery, follows hard on the heels of Wonderland at Hampstead and Blinded by the Light in Edinburgh, both of which take on similar subject matter: miners facing adversity as the industry goes into irreparable decline.

Indeed, from an earlier era, D H Lawrence's The Widowing of Mrs Holroyd views the industry using a different perspective and can currently be seen at the Orange Tree in Richmond.

Strangely, despite a few sideswipes at the future Lady Thatcher, who was about to take office as six men become trapped in a mine beneath South Wales by an explosion, the politics are forsaken to be replaced by the personal.

There is certainly a great deal of drama on display as men frequently disappear with uncertainty as to whether they will ever come back and the sextet agonise in their efforts to overcome the terrible stress, bonding and fighting in almost equal measure.

They also form a mini choir that peaks with a hilarious rendition of the Sex Pistols’ Pretty Vacant.

The group all have silly nicknames and are led by Patrick Brennan as Chopper, the kind of courageous deputy who steps up to the mark when it matters. However, he has his own skeletons that eventually caused dissension.

His jousts primarily feature the obligatory veteran Clive Merrison, still fondly remembered as the headmaster in the original production of The History Boys, playing Bomber Lancaster, who ironically spends the day on which is due to retire underground, ending it by making what can seem like a rather schematic symbolic gesture.

At the other end of the scale, we get the compulsory 18-year-old, Joshua Price’s gauche Mostyn (aka Julie Andrews), a boy with paternity issues who almost visibly grows up from day-to-day, achieving maturity in no time at all.

As brothers do, Kyle Rees and Taylor Jay-Davies in the roles of Curly and Chewy both bicker and bond during the ordeal.

The final member of the crew is an outsider, Robert East taking the part of Hovis, a Polish war hero from three decades back, who is the calm rock on whom the others eventually come to rely.

The situation is compelling and the actors give their all under the direction of Paul Robinson from Theatre 503.

However, Chris Urch tries far too hard to entertain. Inter alia, we are asked to witness childish games, much argument and problems relating to amputation, cannibalism, paternity and identity.

As such, the running time feels excessive at 2½ hours, especially as that fascinating topic of the dismantling of the mining industry is almost completely bypassed.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher