BBC Radio 7, 14 November 2009
'That Summer' refers to the summer of 1984, the year
of the miners' strike which lasted nearly twelve months and ended with the miners being forced to go back to work and accept
pit closures. It was a watershed moment in British trade union history; for many Conservative thinkers, it marked the occasion
when Margaret Thatcher's government finally destroyed the unions once and for all.
David Edgar's play imagines a situation where a nice, respectable middle-class family
invites two teenage girls from a Welsh mining community to accompany them on a summer holiday. The family's motives are laudable:
Howard (Nicholas le Prevost) is a successful socialist academic, who is on the cusp of a major television deal; his second
wife Cressida (Emilia David) makes great efforts to raise funds to support the miners' cause and participate in any political
meetings; while their friend Terry (Paul Copley), an ex-miner himself, understands the reasons why the miners have gone on
strike in the first place.
As the play unfolds, however, it becomes painfully evident that none of them understand
either Michelle's (Cerel Jenkins') or Frankie's (Catherine Tregenner's) feelings. As Michelle observes at one point: "We (the
girls) must look very backward" in the family's eyes. Neither of the two girls have any particular political axe to grind,
but they support their parents on account of their family loyalty - something neither Howard nor Cressida can understand.
Moreover, the two girls have had to accept suffering as a way of life by foregoing their leisure interests, such as ice-skating.
What they do not want is the kind of patronizing charity provided by the middle-class family; this only serves to make the
girls feel even more marginalized both socially and emotionally. If nothing else, That Summer attacks the kind of
champagne socialism embraced by the affluent middle classes; that pseudo-concern for one's fellow human beings that actually
amounts to nothing. In today's world, it might be seen as an attack on New Labour (represented by the family), which removed
the political convictions of Old Labour and replaced them with Alastair Campbell-inspired image-making.
That Summer is an angry play, where it appears that no one actually learns
anything. While Cressida complements the girls at the end of the holiday, claiming that they opened doors for her - especially
in terms of emotional feeling - this does not amount to much. The strike collapses; the miners are forced back to work; and
Cressida feels guilty for having 'betrayed' them through inertia. Perhaps no one really wants to bother with commitment;
it might involve too much questioning of one's identity.