Critics' Circle Review Wonderland

Wonderland: An absorbing representation of the Nottinghamshire mining strikes

Wonderland absolutely shattered my expectations and was one of the most emotive and best acted performances that I have ever seen. Although initially taken off guard by the strong language of the miners, the play quickly sucked me into their lives and the intensity of the loyalty they had towards each other and their profession.

The play absolutely nails the evolution of the relationships between the characters as the politics at the time not only represent a war between the government and the miners but the divide between those forced back into work to feed their families and the miners who are compelled to picket themselves into their own destruction.

The writing for the performance is honestly the best that I have seen which gives this performance one of the most memorable plots I have ever watched. Watching Robin Bowerman’s portrayal of American industrialist Ian MacGregor and his tunnel-vision and destructive handling of the British coal industry was definitely a highlight, and this contrast to the other characters was a pleasure to watch.

Usually for myself the set doesn’t really impact how the performance feels for me but for once I must make an exception, it’s really something you have to see for yourself, as the dark and grim recreation of a working mine really sets the atmosphere as the really helps to highlight the vulnerability of the miners.

Darkness is incredibly well utilised throughout the production as not only does it represent the peril and fear that exist within the mines but it also sets the tone for a story that is ultimately tragic with the consequences and resulting poverty still being felt to this day.

As a critic it is difficult to be able to justify not being able to find a fault in a production which I believe speaks volumes about the play. I completely feel like every component of the production was done brilliantly. The list of what I enjoyed about the play could go on forever however the result of all the hard work is a performance that really absorbs you and makes you feel like you are there. Wonderland is really a top quality performance and its lessons on divisions in society are especially relevant during today’s period of political uncertainty.

By Alex Longhurst

Last night I had the privilege of going to see wonderland by Beth Steel. Overall the performance was amazing and extremely powerful. As the curtain was lifted it revealed a wonderful set- a dimly lit stage with a dark background of coal similar to a mine with many bridges, tunnel and steps leading off stage. Personally, it worked really well with the brilliant acting to create a really great piece whilst enhancing the atmosphere of tension.

All the actors who were in it worked perfectly together to create a really powerful piece of drama. The choreography was great as all the actors moved time. It started out as just two sixteen-year-old boys as they are taken down the mine for the first time by an old miner. As more tension grew between both the government and the workers you started to feel for them men in difficult situations on both sides as they had to do both what is morally right and what they could financially capacitate. Both groups appeared to be represented realistically. With the use of strong emotive language you really felt the pain of the miners. The conflict between the government and the people felt very relatable as similar things appear to be happening now through Brexit. The play was set in Nottingham which meant that the places people and accents felt familiar and close to home.

I also thought that the costumes (miners in their suits with their mining equipment and their head lamp, and the government in plain suits) were really good at helping us to understand who was playing what and their situations. The lighting was also used effectively as the miners had head lights and there were also more lamps similar to what would have been used down a mine. With all of it put together you really felt as if you were in that situation and down the mine with them. This was a sunning piece of theatre which I would definitely go and see again.

By Naomi Thomas

Digging into the past

Wonderland. Set in Nottinghamshire 1983. Follows the true tale of the miners’ strike, through this you see the brotherhood formed by the miners tear at the seams, families judgements collide and the side that no one really did see, the government’s.

Every single one of the actors involved in this production were absolutely outstanding, how they conveyed the raw emotion of each of their characters and the struggle of finding where to place their loyalty, to the mines or to their needs. The choreography involved assisted with implementing more depth into the story, and made it seem that the men were machines with how in sync they were with one another.

The set and lighting however in this production was absolutely phenomenal and I take my hat off to the designer, Morgan Large and the lighting designers Jack Knowles and Dan Saggars. The set seemed to also be introduced with the lighting and how this affects the whole feel to the production was amazing and I had to take a moment to sit back and just admire it. I just loved how the major part of the set was always present throughout the whole play, I feel as though this could be a representation of how when the men actually do leave the mines to go home, the mines never leave them.

This overwhelming play shows the divide between the people and government, which I believe is a reflection of what is happening today with Brexit. It is as though situations like this are always going to occur and will result in an ongoing battle between the both parties due to the largely different views.

Overall, Wonderland is a must see as it portrays perfectly the history and heritage of the people’s home, Nottinghamshire and takes you through the story of what people may know of, but did not experience.

By Lucy Bridger

Wonderland is a play based in Nottinghamshire written by Nottingham writer, Beth Steel. It shows two young miners starting their careers and goes through their lives and the changes over the duration of the miners’ strike.

Adam Penford (director) stated that this play could be parallel to current situations such as Brexit due to the different opposition views in government and society. This links to his play because of the conflict presented in hierarchy also portrayed in the miners’ strike; where one side of the argument (the miners) wanted prevention of pit closures and the other (the government) wanted to reduce the power of the trade unions by stopping miner work.

When asked what morals he wanted his audience to receive he said that he wanted them to acknowledge what messages they should be receiving without it being told to them.

Should miners be payed less or equal? The miners portrayed the historic thoughts of ‘equal’ successfully – it is clear from the actors’ presence and in some scenes explicit words that the majority of the group hated Margaret Thatcher. The miners speak of privileges which shouldn’t be a privilege: food and water. It made me, as an audience member, empathise with their situation.

After the interval, the miners’ strike begins and the miners become activists. Bobbo (Karl Haynes) played with lots of anger which created the suspense of the scene. The set was realistic – it made a difference to the feel of the negative parts as the use of the colours black and grey really connote a sad, cold-hearted life with not much hope. It is at this stage of the play the unity in actors was most relevant. That shone successfully however, not all actors portrayed real emotions and it felt quite surreal; removing the edge to the scenes making it less intriguing as an audience member.

As a younger audience member, the play seemed very indirect. In the first half there was a section with nudity which seemed unnecessary. I was unsure on many things going on as it was slow paced yet chaotic and nothing was clearly laid out for me to latch onto. The play is said to be suitable for 14+ but to me, it seemed only viewable for mature viewers as the scenes expressed emotions of distress, anxiety and vivid scenes which could be deemed socially inappropriate.

What interested me was the usage of lights, dance and music. These creative arts brightened up the negative storyline and I found to be one of my favourite parts of the play due to their controversial effect.

At the end, a list of statistics were shouted which gave them impact. You needed no effort to learn the way our economy treated the community so poorly and the unity shown in characters and actors throughout opposed to this negative.

It was a good play: one for older viewers in my opinion but nevertheless exiting; important; memorable.

By Grace Astbury-Crimes

In 2018, watching Wonderland for the first time, I feel like I wasn’t fully matured enough to comprehend how powerful the play truly was. This time around, I noticed several things that had me leave the Playhouse moved by the production. The main thing I noticed was the use of the set and levels to symbolise the corruption of the people of power (the economists). The way this was done was by directing the two economists who have most of the control for most of the play to stand on the platform above the ground level and peer over onto the miners as they suffer from the collapse of rocks falling onto their level. I found this to be really moving due it almost making it seem like the rocks falling down onto the miners was caused by the economists above, perhaps foreshadowing the further destruction to the mines caused by the economists and government.

Something that caught my eye was the characterisation of Jimmy and Spud, played by Joshua Glenister and Nicholas Shaw. As a good actor should, they never broke character and kept a consistent emotive yet naturalistic performance which really made them stand out from the rest of the cast, however overall I believe that each actor did play their role to a satisfactory standard.

My only thoughts on how to improve the standard of the play is by making the more political scenes more engaging. As much as I found the play tense and exciting, I believe that some points within the productions were dragged out and slow, causing me to lose interest in the piece.

Overall, I very much enjoyed Wonderland and its compelling, gripping and historical story line. Even though I was not alive at the time this play was set, I still felt a deep connection to it because of my family’s history with coal mining, especially during and after the Second World War. It’s also clear that a lot of story line is relatable to current politics today. I believe that once again, Beth Steel, Adam Penford and the rest of the team working on this Wonderland have done a perfect job. Hopefully, this show will make a third return one day, to remind us of our history and how we came to be today.

By Ella O’Brian

“Ey up Youth”

My grandad always uses that common phrase

Never before have I felt so close to a piece of theatre, especially when feeling vulnerable, this piece lifted me and reminded me of my roots and where I come from. The comedic timing was performed exceedingly well, and it was clear this was no amateur production. Every single actor was believable and incredibly passionate about their roles- I just wanted to get up there and laugh with them. There was something magical about the way they all interacted and united- a true ensemble. My excitement grew when the low notes were sung beautifully and cleverly- emphasising the connections with the story line.

I guess it’s safe to say that I felt suffocated. The staging was purely menacing and scared me from the moment I saw such beauty. Yet, as time are I began to feel at ease and more comfortable with such a sight, it felt almost homely, and I know that the two young youths went through this experience too, but “wonderfully” I got to do that with them.

Never ever judge any one. A key message I particularly felt. It does not matter about the shirt on your back, or the filling on your sandwich but what does is respect for others-something these characters had, even when their leading man was no longer a friend. Their comedic wit, excellent characterisation and amazing accents connected me to a whole other world I’ve always wanted to go to.

Thank you Youth, now are we going down the mine or what?

By Betsy B

Malcolm’s wife

“It’ll be over in a few weeks” that’s what he told me. They said that ‘bout the Great War “It’ll all be over by Christmas” they’d said but it lasted four years. Only be few weeks. £11 a week to feed our entire family. How does he think we can survive on £11 a week? We can barely cope on his normal wage let alone this union payment. I want him to go back, we have two kids at home and a dog but he’s afraid Malcolm doesn’t want the abuse to be called a scab. His friends are more important than his own flesh a blood. I hate it! He’ll go back soon though or at least I’ll nag him ‘til he does.

He killed the dog! It ran into the road he told me. How stupid does he think I am? We’ve been married years, I can tell when he lies. So, what we couldn’t afford to keep it but it was my only friend. What am I supposed to do now without something to do while he’s off picketing and protesting and the kids are at school? He just needs to go back to work then all this insanity will end.

To make up for everything, Malcolm attempted to take me to the beach. It was all going to plan the kids were at his mum’s and we were in the car. Barely a mile out of town and we were stopped, policemen claiming we were picketing and that we had to turn around. That was the final straw everything building up to now. If they’ve decided I’m a picketer maybe I should be. That’ll get the government back for claiming false stories about me. If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.
So that’s what I do organise rallies, help out with strikers’ aids anything I can do to sort all this damage out but it’ll be over soon, I know it will. And once it’s all over this will all have been done for the greater good. They will have listened.

By Hannah Spencer

Not To Be Undermined

It is rare for a politically charged play to resonate with and unite a wide-ranging audience, but Wonderland succeeds where others have failed. This returning production, written by Beth Steel, the daughter of a Nottinghamshire miner, convincingly navigates the distinctive 1980s scene of prolonged conflict between the Conservative government and mining communities, as well as demonstrating the strength and struggles of maintaining camaraderie under truly testing circumstances.

The curtain rises, a single silhouette cuts through the darkness, soon evolving into a number of figures, standing taller together beneath the breath-taking mine walls of Welbeck Colliery. It is this award winning set which transforms Nottingham Playhouse’s stage and transports the audience to a setting like no other.

Against the dark glint of the coal walls, the characters’ personalities burn brightly, and the stark disparities between the miners and the politicians are the oxygen feeding the flames. The sleek, distinguishing suits of governmental figures juxtaposing with the common, identical work clothes of the miners aids in developing the contrasting images of ruthless authoritarians and a group of respectable equals. Likewise, at the start of the strikes, the appearance of the miners in their own clothes takes us beyond their collective identity and introduces them as individuals. As for the much later return to their uniform work clothes, I couldn’t help but initially feel the irony exude as they stood there, no longer with the same sense of pride and equality, too much having changed, too much water under the bridge.

Despite a somewhat lack of a lead, everyone’s roles and relationships are impressively quick in being established through the brief use of song and dance, and the hilarious outspokenness of initial interactions. It is as a result of this that I found the rest of the play to be effective in its group narrative. The resemblances between the two younger miners’ budding friendship and that of two of the established miners also subtly provided me with crucial insight into the allegiance these workers had developed for their job, and similarly towards those who worked alongside them. For me, this made it all the more devastating to witness the supposedly stable structure of their livelihood and community begin to collapse around them.

Whilst an enjoyable and engaging play, I couldn’t help but find the ending verging on lacklustre. The steady plot climaxes with a sudden occurrence that I found to neither match the physical realism of the set, nor involve a character the audience highly resonates to; although I understood the intention, I didn’t find it notably complimentary to the rest of the play. However, with apt wit from politicians and miners alike provoking uncontrollable outbursts of laughter from the audience, the play rightfully captured and held the attention of all from start to finish.

“Those with privilege and power have a responsibility.” In a dissenting world, this play serves as a reminder of the strength of camaraderie and respect. No matter who you are, your class, your background, your job, you have a voice and a right to be heard. They are not to be undermined – we are not to be undermined.

Mel Malkin

Wonderland – A Musical response

by iiintothewild