Gary Clarke with Lou Cope (Dramaturg)
Gary Clarke Company
Contact, Manchester

Wasteland Credit: Joe Armitage
Wasteland Credit: Joe Armitage
Wasteland Credit: Joe Armitage
Wasteland Credit: Joe Armitage
Wasteland Credit: Joe Armitage
Wasteland Credit: Joe Armitage

Since closing in 1994, Grimethorpe Colliery has become something of a muse for artists. Having already inspired Richard Thompson’s song "Last Shift" (bleak even by his standards), the colliery closure now forms the background for Wasteland from the Gary Clarke Company.

Since the closure of the colliery, The Last Miner (Parsifal James Hurst (PJ)) is sunk in depression. Reliving the final days of the pit in a maudlin manner or drowning his sorrows in booze. Full of self-hatred, he knows he is a poor role model for his son (The Boy: Robert Andrews) who, like most of his generation, is unemployed and looking for trouble out of sheer boredom. The relationship often turns confrontational, although, ironically, the authorities give them common ground by criminalising The Boy who attends illegal raves on the site of the derelict colliery. The heavy-handed response of the authorities serves to radicalise both generations.

The title has multiple meanings: the mining community being wasted, the colliery left derelict, and the potential of a future generation squandered as they get wasted on drugs. The content of Wasteland is similarly ambitious featuring mournful live music from members of the WFEL Fairey Band, a relentless recorded rave soundtrack from Charles Webber, film projections and elements of verbatim theatre. A quartet of former miners add to the sense of desolation singing a cappella and waving their clocking-in cards like flags of surrender.

Inevitably, the various elements necessitate a ‘stop-go’ sense to the show. Periods of energetic dance grind to a halt as grainy home movie recordings of pit life or speeches from the picket line are played.

Rather than formal dance moves, Gary Clarke’s choreography and direction takes inspiration from real life. The opening of the show plunges the audience into pit-like conditions with an unexpected descent into darkness and ominous metal-scrapping-on-metal sounds. Some of the dance moves are drawn from labour; ironically, the ravers setting up their illegal dance pulling and tugging on ropes and barking orders as if down the pit.

This is not a dance that allows the characters any dignity. The entry of Parsifal James Hurst is pitiful, staggering and lurching drunkenly around the stage. When the relationship between father and son descends into a fistfight, there is no balletic grace, just brutal fingers gouging at eyes. Robert Andrews is, however, allowed to demonstrate how rave culture brings a degree of pride to his generation—admiring his physique as he prepares for the rave.

Although the choreography is highly energetic, there is no cathartic release. There is a frightening undertone of desperation and defeat behind the choreography as if the dancers are simply trying to exhaust themselves and drain away their rage. The dancers are not supportive of each other, there is no lifting, and the moves are aggressive and confrontational. The ravers whirl like dervishes yet there is a zombie-like aspect as they dance only on the spot, never progressing forward. One wonders if the dancer in a floppy hat and sunglasses waving maracas is an in-joke added for the Manchester (sorry, Madchester) audience.

Gary Clarke allows a degree of ambiguity about the ravers. Their initial appearance is menacing, slouching on stage in hoodies, it is easy to see how propaganda from the authorities could result in them being perceived as antisocial.

There is little hope in Wasteland but, watching it on the day when the highest number of public sector workers went on strike in decades, it is hard to avoid a sense of chickens coming home to roost. After years of being treated with disdain, older workers are quitting the jobs market altogether and younger workers are choosing not to accept a pittance for undertaking arduous high-skilled jobs and opting for low-paid but easy work. It has been argued industrial action is one of the factors especially holding the UK economy back right now. So at least the Gary Clarke Company can say: ‘’I told you this would happen’’.

Reviewer: David Cunningham

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