Bryony Lavery’s powerful play Queen Coal gets its inspiration from the celebration of Thatcher’s death in
Most of the action happens in the build up to the burning of a Thatcher effigy on a bonfire in a pit village. It is clearly clearly modelled on the event when Thatcher's "coffin" went up in flames in Goldthorpe, South Yorkshire.
There are just three characters on stage, all activists in the strike. There's ex-miner Ian and his ex-wife Justine and his sister Maggie, both leaders in Women Against Pit Closures.
Justine left her husband and the village for
The impact of Thatcher is centre stage too. She destroyed their community, and broke their lives and relationships. Justine and Ian’s grown-up children’s lives are broken too; their son is a drug dealer and their daughter Lauren’s life is marked by uncertain relationships and unfulfilled dreams. They remain estranged from their mother.
The three characters are united in their enduring hatred of Thatcher and taunt her effigy. Yet when Maggie puts on the Thatcher mask she speaks in Thatcher’s voice, and the effigy too becomes chillingly real with the mask, and Justine’s cashmere jumper, on.
Justine was politicised by Thatcher and the strike. She has been an activist since leaving the village, most recently in the Occupy movement, yet she no longer believes in the power of workers to change things.
The set is full of fire symbols. Ian’s house floor is covered with cinders, a burning brazier flares in flashback scenes from the strike, and its flame draws Justine back to the village in 2013. Lavery has her sing Blake’s “
Lavery’s play conveys the devastation that Thatcher wrought on mining communities and their justified hatred of her. That sense is heightened by an imaginative set, and powerful acting. There is despair, but also hope.