Close the Coalhouse Door by Alan Plater, adapted by Lee Hall

Contact Us

Saturday Drama on BBC Radio 4

BBC Radio 4, 29 September 2012
First staged in 1968, Close the Coalhouse Door falls within the tradition of agit prop theatre associated with Joan Littlewood's Oh, What a Lovely War, in which social and political issues are dramatized through a combination of music, song, and dialogue, with the cast assuming several different roles.
Plater's play dramatizes stories by Sid Chaplin about miners in north-east England and their struggles for survival in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in the face of ruthless exploitation by the mine-owners. It celebrates the power of solidarity and collective action, while portraying government ministers such as Stanley Baldwin and Lord Hailsham (aka Qunitin Hogg) as out-of-touch and concerned solely with themselves. There are some surreal moments - for example, Hailsham performing a music-hall routine, or Harold Wilson interrupting a miners' meeting to explain government policy in prosaic tones. Although claiming to originate from a working-class background, it is clear he wants to avoid the miners' company.
Samuel West's production, restaged for radio by Gary Brown, has been updated by Lee Hall (of Billy Elliot fame). Perhaps "updated" is the wrong word: Close the Coalhouse Door is a period piece, evoking a long tradition of political action on the miners' part, stretching way back to the 1830s. As a prologue to the production suggests, there is nothing left now; the mining industry has gone, and the communities that formed the backbone of working class culture in the the north-east have dissipated. Hall's updating invites us to reflect on the consequences of this; injustices still prevail, but the political will to fight has largely been extinguished.
First produced by Northern Stage in Newcastle earlier in 2012, Close the Coalhouse Door is at heart an angry production; through Alex Glasgow's folk anthems we are exhorted to stand up and fight for our rights against the impersonal forces of government, irrespective of its political hue.