Award-winning playwright John Godber has an in-depth understanding of the devastation caused by the 1984 miner’s strike because he comes from a Yorkshire mining community and his father was a pitworker.
It was, he says, an “industrial carnage,” from which the north is still suffering, and left in its wake a trail of physical, emotional and social destruction.
His new play Shafted! is his first attempt at capturing – and commenting on –what the defeat of the miners did to individuals and pit communities up and down the country.
While it is sprinkled with his trademark humour the play focuses on an issue that is still keenly felt by the son of an ex-miner raised in Upton near Wakefield. And, as he points out, with the recent news that 750 steelworkers’ jobs are to go in Port Talbot it’s a subject matter that continues to be all-too relevant.
John, now in his 60th year, went on to become one of the country’s leading and best-known dramatists, but remains angry at the way whole mining communities were ‘shafted’ and never recovered, despite regeneration projects and European money.
“There’s a lot of talk of the Northern Powerhouse,” he says, “but it takes generations for an area to recover. There are still a lot of places where there are empty shops and nothing but charity shops in the High Street.
“As my career rocketed into the West End my parents were living through the fall-out of the strike. Anybody who doesn’t think the north is still suffering is living on a different planet.”
Although he has written two plays about miners, former teacher John didn’t tackle the subject of the strike at the time it happened because he’d just been appointed director of Hull Truck Theatre and realised that the Humberside region had its own problems, with the demise of the docks and shipping industry.
“It wouldn’t have seemed right,” he says, “to be telling the story of miners.”
However, now the time is right and after premiering Shafted! last year, in which he appears with his wife, fellow playwright Jane Thornton, the actors are preparing to take the show on a tour of former mining areas.
The show, which is a venture between the Theatre Royal Wakefield and John’s own company, earned rave reviews, prompting plans for the tour.
It will be coming to Huddersfield’s Lawrence Batley Theatre on Thursday and Friday, February 11, and 12.
For John and Jane, it will be the first time they have appeared on stage together in a touring production for 25 years.
Jane, who co-wrote some of Godber’s most famous works, including Bouncers and Shakers, tackled the subject of the miner’s strike from the perspective of wives and mothers in her play All The Fun Of The Fight. In Shafted! she takes the role of Dot, wife of former miner Harry, played by John.
The story follows the fortunes of the couple as they try to make a go of a B&B in Bridlington.
“It is,” says John, “a play that shows that people are very stoical in the face of such industrial carnage and once everyone has gone – the television cameras and the reporters – they just got on with it and picked up their lives, although there was nothing left to pick up.
“It’s very funny, but it’s a comedy in the face of adversity. You’ve got this big, burly ex-miner in Bridlington making vol-au-vents.”
As John observes, the miner’s strike had far-reaching effects.
Not only were mining communities themselves affected – “there was a plethora of drug addictions, divorce, broken marriages and broken promises, with proud people having to take menial work,” he says, “but Yorkshire seaside towns also suffered, as their former customers no longer had the cash for holidays. That damage is still being felt today.”
John Godber, a BAFTA and Olivier award-winner, is one of the top three most-performed playwrights in the country – Shakespeare and Alan Ayckbourn are the other two – and has had a remarkably prolific career.
So prolific, in fact, that when asked how many plays he’s penned he says he has no idea. But the figure certainly stands in the upper 60s.
Shafted! continues his tradition of tackling topics that are heartfelt and yet have a heartwarming dimension.
It is, he explains, an ‘against all odds’ story of what happened after the strikes.
Tickets for Shafted! are £10 and £16 from www.thelbt.org.uk or 01484 430528.
There will be a post-show discussion on Thursday, February 11.