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Wonderland

Published 2 July 2014

What’s it all about?

Marking the 30th anniversary of the miners’ strike, Beth Steel’s ambitious drama recounts the events of 1984 to 1985 from a political and personal viewpoint; taking a detailed look through the eyes of the men at the frontline and the politicians calling the shots.

Transforming the Hampstead Theatre into the dark, grimy and sometimes terrifyingly dangerous – figuratively speaking, of course; they even postponed the press night to ensure the incredible set was safe for use – world of a mining pit; two young men are thrown into the back-breaking, scorching hot, loud and dirty craft of working three miles underground. Cut to Act Two and the repercussions of decisions taken by Margaret Thatcher’s government have forced these men on strike with whole towns on the brink of economic collapse.

Who’s in it?

Split into two camps, when we first meet Edward Hall’s large company the difference between the two could not be more dramatic. In the pits, the actors are smeared with black soot, glistening with sweat and lit almost entirely by the torches on their hard hats. Paul Brennen gives an affecting performance as the frenetic, passionate Colonel. Ben-Ryan Davies and David Moorst are compelling and sometimes heart-wrenchingly believable as the two newest recruits, while Gunnar Cauthery draws the most laughs from Steel’s often hilariously crude script as the foul-mouthed womaniser Spud.

Head south from the Nottinghamshire group to London and there are the men plotting and debating their anti-Scargill plans. With clean suits and shiny shoes, they cut stark figures against Ashley Martin-Davis’ immersive steel set, from Dugald Bruce-Lockhart as the eccentric and cocksure David Hart to Andrew Havill as Peter Walker, the only political figure that Steel paints with any sense of confliction.

What should I look out for?

The gaps in the floor. With the Hampstead Theatre transformed into the round by Martin-Davis’ breath-taking set, if your seats are across the stage you’ll need to navigate the floor of the pit that is decidedly heel un-friendly. Look down and you’ll see into the bowels of the mine, look up and above you you’ll find the clunky pit cage that the cast utilise in an outstandingly atmospheric first act.

In a nutshell?

Beth Steel’s ambitious mining strike drama wows with its dramatic and often terror-inducing transformation of the Hampstead Theatre.

What’s being said on Twitter?

@MichaelLCrick Saw excellent Wonderland at Hampstead Theatre last night, on 1984 miners’ strike – amazing coal mine on stage – dark, heat, noise, toil etc

‏@RitaMorrisonNW5 Go see Wonderful Wonderland at Hampstead Theatre. Staggering Set and Choreography. Reliving the events is palpable.

Will I like it?

From the pits to the picket line, Wonderland is a political rollercoaster. Steel has avoided the temptation to simply draw on the devastating personal ramifications of this turbulent time and instead served up a meaty economical and historical account. Even with the multitude of facts thrown at you to digest, however, you can’t help but be emotionally affected by this dense offering.

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