As the miners' strike passes into history, for those of us who were there, it is interesting to see how the stories and legends surrounding the year-long bitter dispute between the NUM and the British Coal Board – and more significantly the ideological conflict between left and right wing politics in Britain – are being built into modern mythology and legend. And given the significance of the strike Dan Mellor's one man show began with an epic and portentous 'Once upon a time …' which was quickly dispelled by the humour and enthusiasm of the young miner's character Mellor was depicting.
Indeed throughout the show it was Mellor's committed and energetic portrayal of four childhood friends who grew up to become miners and their involvement in the strike which draws the audience in and helps them to empathize with the community they live in. This is particularly evident in the gang's regular visits to their local social club; their interaction with the rest of their community, wives, girlfriends etc. and the central role of the pit in the definition of their role and standing in the community.
Of course the show addresses some of the big issues involved in the strike and Mellor uses some of the trite phrases trotted out during the dispute such as 'Coal not Dole' and bandies round the names of such villains as Thatcher and MacGregor (although not Scargill). The whole show is played out against a background of era invoking music – no show about the miners' strike would be complete without the strains of Billy Bragg's 'Which Side are you On' and the Frankie's' 'Two Tribes'; only missing was The Beat's 'Stand Down Margaret'.
However, played out against the back drop of the cataclysmic protests at Orgreave, Mellor's one man show tells an intimate story of friendship, humour, loyalty and betrayal; of the growing of boys to men; right versus might and the changing of the British political landscape. It is in these intimate moments of careful characterization that the audience truly come to understand the devastating impact of the breaking of the mining industry on the individuals involved – in 1983 when the strike started there were 174 pits and by 2009 there were six. Mellor poignantly references the destruction of centuries old mining communities and the significant role of the miners' wives and mothers in supporting the strikes. He also acknowledges that most of these communities have never recovered and have in the large part subsequently been abandoned by the ruling political elite.
There was a great deal of laughter and merriment in the show, particularly when Mellor portrayed the miners' relationship with the police - at first humorous and jocular but eventually as the strike dragged on the drama shows the relationship coloured with jealousy, anger and violence. However, for me the saddest part of all is the lack of social and political progress since the strike. As Ranking Roger said at the time and Dan Mellor's Undermined clearly demonstrated with equal measures of comedy and tragedy, 'I see no joy. I see only sorrow. I see no chance of your bright new tomorrow. Stand down Margaret [Teresa].'