FringeReview Scotland 2019
It is 1994 and Grimethorpe colliery is being broken down. The people around had been broken years before. The generation of people who had experienced the pit were left in their armchairs with visions played on screens of a time when they lived, breathed and were affected by the external forces of politics into surrender. This forms the first part of the piece where we have a father drunk and misty eyed with despair whilst watching the replays on the video screen. It grows into the despair of the young who have to watch this decay and are feckless, not reckless but left without much to grip onto. That grip comes with a movement that defined the 1990’s. They dance their way into notice. They gain national prominence by being unwilling to sit down, settle down or take a telling. They take up their shields and their Es and they fight back in a third section of the performance that has all the echoes of the dance scene and the ripples of a movement that defined a generation. The ending which has overtones of overdosing and the final connection between father and son has a poignancy because of the vibrancy of what we have seen before.
I loved Coal. I adored Wasteland. In his programme notes, Gary Clarke talks of how his life was enriched by this underground dance scene and this is obvious. The affection of the piece of the moves, the music and the communal feeling of belonging is touchable. Its fingers transcend the lights and grab you. They make you want to sit up, ignore notice of authority and be.
From the beginning this just oozes authenticity. Dad is presented as someone who has pathos in abundance, his drunkenness is tinged with sadness through lost pride. The video background gives us the first taste of how multi media will inform us as an audience and then allow the dance to make comment. It took me back to a time of politicised campaigning, the like of which, we have lost on the left. The video shows how important documentary evidence is now and how we have become a visual nation, glued to screens and their messages. Here we got a history lesson that showed the defiance and the threats to our individual liberties; as authority took a liberty.
Once established the infection of hopelessness became a hoodie style collection of young people trying and relieve the boredom. And it happened. The collective of young people, looking for an escape, get together to explore tunnels, hangars and abandoned cathedrals to that industry that was dismantled by authority before.
Backed by the video of the time when these raves were seen as a danger to civilized society when they were an expression of civil society, Clarke has us gripped. Whilst the people in charge would focus on the drug scene, the dangers, the deaths, the suffering of decent people drawn into these illicit gatherings, the people at these gatherings found expression, we saw them on the screens and onstage, which was a resistance to the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill. Kill the Bill became a sloganised movement as enticing for the young as Coal not Dole had been for their generation before them.
By the end and as Clarke shows us, failure did not define them as we get the moves from the street into the venues through the set up for a rave event is given a stage whilst our four young dancers show their moves in an explosive sequence that has all the tricks and ticks that young people of the time. It was exceptional and highly authentic as a voice of the time. The polemic from the microphone reminded us not just that this was “their Tiananmen Square” but it was also their political awakening.
The dance was spell binding, the narrative was secure, the music was pulsating and hypnotic, the lights were fantastic, the soundscape beyond the music was highly effective and the choreography simply outstanding.
Clarke gave us a Coal that was homage to a forgotten time. A masculine time that translated affectionately into dance here he has taken dance and used that same affection to give us an understanding of what grew from the lack of Coal. What can possibly come next? Whatever it is, it has me riveted to my seat.