Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

We Love You Arthur

Fiona Evans
Northern Firebrand and New Writing North
Customs House, South Shields, and touring
(2005)

Joanne Hickson as Lisa in We Love You Arthur

"Before George Michael was gay, before Madonna was British, before Bob Geldof fed the world, two teenage girls fell in love with Arthur Scargill."

So reads the advertising blurb for We Love You Arthur but, like all such blurbs, it only tells part of the story. It is, indeed, a story about teenage crushes set in a Durham pit village in 1984 during the Miners' Strike, but it's much more than that: it's about coming-of-age, family and friendship, self-discovery, trust, betrayal and, inevitably, politics. And it is very funny, but its humour is mingled with tears.

In this, her first professionally produced play, Evans interweaves the various strands with considerable skill as we follow the machinations of teenagers Lisa and Julie to get to meet their idol. It's obvious that she remembers her own teen years clearly, for her portrayal of the two girls (aided in no small measure by the performances of Joanne Hickson as Lisa and Ashlea Sanderson as Julie) is totally convincing. The angst, the bubbling over of emotions, the mood swings, the embarrasments caused by parents, the necessity to be cool and in the fashion (The Smiths, not Madonna!), the "together forever" friendships, and all the passions of a narrowly circumscribed world are there.

And it's not just the teenagers: there's also the relationship between Lisa's mother, Anne, and Dot, her mother (both played by the excellent Zoë Lambert); between Anne and her husband Ray (John Carter); and (offstage but no less powerful) between Julie's mother and father.

And always in the background sits the Miners' Strike and the poverty which that struggle brought in its wake: the soup kitchens, the food parcels from Russia, the whip-round and help from the union to pay for a funeral, and the fierce anger directed at the "scabs", traitors to the cause whose families shared in their ostracism. Unlike in Billy Elliot, where it was a background, in this play it is almost another character.

The story is told in 26 short scenes, following the modern cinematic approach rather than the more traditional two (or three) act structure, on a very simple but flexible set by John Hudson. The sense of the period is reinforced by a soundtrack of 80s music, intermixed with a recording of Scargill himself and the sound of the battles between police and pickets.

This short scene structure can - even with the kind of fast, efficient scene-changing by the cast we saw tonight - impede the flow of the piece. To her credit Evans (and director Mark Catley must also take some credit here) keeps the flow going. This is an assured professional debut from Fiona Evans.

Philip Fisher reviewed this production when it played at the Assembly Rooms during the 2005 Edinburgh Fringe.

Reviewer: Peter Lathan