Theatre Review: QUEENS OF THE COAL AGE – Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester

Kate Anthony (Anne) & Eve Robertson (Elaine) in QUEENS OF THE COAL AGE

Kate Anthony (Anne) & Eve Robertson (Elaine) in QUEENS OF THE COAL AGE. Photo: Keith Pattison

Poignant, powerful and full of Northern wit, Maxine Peake’s QUEENS OF THE COAL AGE is a political piece of theatre full of heart

Following her recent performance as Winnie in Samuel Beckett’s HAPPY DAYS, Maxine Peake makes a welcome return to Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre with her new play QUEENS OF THE COAL AGE.

Set in Newton-Le-Willows in 1993, QUEENS OF THE COAL AGE tells the inspiring true story of four ordinary women – Anne, Elaine, Dot and Lesley – who decide to take a stand against the closure of the Parkside Colliery pit. With their bras stuffed with contraband and pretending to be a group of school teachers, they take a tour of the pit and refuse to come back up. Settling into the depths of the mine, making tissue roses and walking imaginary dogs, they face bribery and threats. But as they dig in, those up top start to realise these ladies are not for turning.

Kate Anthony (Anne) & Danielle Henry (Lesley) in QUEENS OF THE COAL AGE

Kate Anthony (Anne) & Danielle Henry (Lesley) in QUEENS OF THE COAL AGE. Photo: Keith Pattison

Poignant, powerful and full of Northern wit, QUEENS OF THE COAL AGE is a heart-warming story of four women taking a stand in the face of a changing world. Brilliantly capturing the class, gender and race tensions of the time, Peake has crafted a political piece of theatre that is full of heart. As hunger and claustrophobia begin to set in, Peake, together with director Bryony Shanahan, bring out the best of these women, carefully balancing poignancy with comedy to deliver a play full of Northern wit which is reminiscent of that of Victoria Wood.

Much of the play’s success lies in the fabulous lead performances by Kate Anthony, Danielle Henry, Jane Hazlegrove and Eve Robertson, who not only demonstrate the grit, solidarity and determination of these inspiring women but also their humour and warmth. Conor Glean as young miner Michael and John Elkington as mining boss Mr Ramsey, also have their chance to shine in this female-dominated story.

John Elkington (Des) & Conor Glean (Michael) and the cast of QUEENS OF THE COAL AGE

John Elkington (Des) & Conor Glean (Michael) in QUEENS OF THE COAL AGE. Photo: Keith Pattison

For the most part, Georgia Lowe’s simple yet effective set design goes a good job of recreating the dirt and dust of the pits but the in-the-round nature of the Royal Exchange Theatre makes it difficult to effectively demonstrate the claustrophobia these women must have felt trapped 812 metres underground. Elliot Griggs’ lighting design is also a little too dark at times, particularly in the first half, making it difficult to see the action on stage.

That said, there is plenty to like here and despite a few issues with pacing, you can’t help but get swept away by these inspiring women and their story. Times may have changed but the QUEENS OF THE COAL AGE – and their story – live on.

(3.5 / 5)

QUEENS OF THE COAL AGE runs at Royal Exchange Theatre until 28 July 2018.

Donna is the Editor of Frankly, My Dear UK. By day, she is a digital marketing whizz, by night she reviews film, theatre and music for a wide range of publications including WhatsonStage, The Public Reviews and ScreenRelish. Loves Shakespeare, prosecco and Formula 1