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Undermined

Danny Mellor
Danny Mellor Presents
Wilton's Music Hall

Danny Mellor as Dale

It is now over thirty years since the miners’ strike of 1984-85. Past history? Not for those who are old enough to have taken sides as Margaret Thatcher and her government set out to crush union power and impose her concepts. Especially not for those who lived through it, the communities still scarred by the conflict and the pit closures, an industry that was a major employer almost obliterated.

Danny Mellor, the writer and performer of Undermined, wasn’t born then and wasn’t a miner (though his granddad was) but here he presents a young man still smarting from that experience in a remarkable recollection of what it was like.

He starts rather solemnly in a rhymed evocation of a man working underground, digging out the black stuff, the coal that brought light and heat to the folk on the surface then, as the lights come up, he’s laughing and holding a pint in his hand. He’s called Dale, one of the lads, and he doesn’t set out to offer a political argument, just to tell how it was when you were part of it from the moment the blokes go on strike.

Here he is in a car trying to get through the police roadblock to picket a Nottingham colliery, best mate Billy driving while the rest of them crouch under a spread-out road map hoping not to be noticed. Here he is lashing out past a policeman’s riot shield at Orgreave and getting pulverised by the coppers, outside a pub on the way home, the lads raising just enough to buy one pint between them, when a woman supporter comes out bringing bacon sandwiches for all of them.

Best mate Billy is important; when his wife Betty discovers she is pregnant, they ask Dale to be the baby’s godfather. He’s delighted but then the baby dies and as if that isn’t enough of a tragedy they are refused child funeral benefit because he’s a striker. In desperation, striker turns scab, but what seems like betrayal underlines reality and deeper understanding makes their bond closer.

There is joyous celebration when Women Against Pit Closures organises a Christmas Party and a serious acknowledgement of the way women stood by the strikers.

This is a remarkable solo performance. It holds its audience for nearly an hour, bubbling with energy as Mellor switches from hilarious to painful, writhing on the ground as the riot squad put the boot in, arms stretched with joy as he celebrates comradeship. Some of the most effective moments are when Mellor slackens the pace; such fast delivery plus Wilton’s resonant acoustic blurs clarity (at least from where I was) though carried along by the emotional content you can miss things.

This is the authentic voice of what the late Iron Lady described as “the enemy within”. Dale and his mates were no angels, but enemy? Whose? We all know who won that battle thirty years ago and we still live with its results for they changed our society. With today’s increasingly polarised politics and manipulation of opinion, this genuine voice of the people isn’t just a reminder of history but could be a wake-up call.

Reviewer: Howard Loxton