Thursday, October 09, 2014

Pits and Perverts - Lyric Theatre (until 11 Oct) - the story of two strange bedfellows

In July 1984, as the miners' strike intensified, the Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM) group was set up in London. A Sun newspaper said:
the gay community's support of the miners is an unholy alliance of Pits and Perverts.
While at first these two feel like strange bedfellows, members of both groups shared experiences of being arrested and charged with offences they didn't commit, police brutality, fighting for rights, and media misrepresentation. With National Union of Miners bank accounts frozen, support organisations were twinned directly with mining communities. London's LGSM financed the Neath, Dulais and Swansea Valley miners, and held a fundraising benefit gig - "Pits and Perverts".

Micheál Kerrigan's debut play delves into this social history, distinct from the recent film Pride.

Sean (played by Conor Maguire) escaped from Derry after his best friend Jim (Alex Wilson) was killed on Bloody Sunday. Nightmares and trauma continue to haunt him as he lives in London with partner Gene (Michael Johnston), a talented music student. With experience of army raids in 'Free Derry' it's a short jump for Sean to support the pit workers. South Wales miners David (Jason Davies) and Rhys (Patrick Buchanan) come to stay, and are at first very uncomfortable with their hosts and accommodation. Added to the mix is Gene's final year concert partner Candida. Orla Mullan superbly played the toffy-nosed Tory singer who thinks the miners should go back to work as the picket line chorus of "Maggie Maggie Maggie, out out out!" accompany her Mahler rehearsals.

Last night's performance of Pits and Perverts by Sole Purpose packed in the facts about the early 1980s. Characters reminded the audience about hunger strikes, the mining dispute and the Thatcher government as well relating the experiences of the gay community. Still images from the era were projected onto the plain walls of Gene and Sean's flat.

Cimabue's Crucifix along with the works and life of Michelangelo were threads running through the play. There were moments of profound observation along with more stereotyped set-piece encounters and situations. At times the calls of "we're all in this together" smacked more of David Cameron's Big Society than 1984 industrial dispute.

Pits and Perverts took a while to warm up and perhaps ticks too many boxes as it combines aspects of Derry, South Wales and London. Conor Maguire's portrayal of Sean - at first stuttering and always prone to emotional outbursts - is very believable. Lighter moments in the second half nearly descend to farce as musical traditions are shared.

By the end of the play, more than just the strike had finished and there were fresh beginnings for many of the characters as the ambition to fight for other people's rights spread. (One real-world consequence of the LGSM's support for miners was the adoption of lesbian and gay rights as equality issues by the TUC and Labour party.)

The Lyric Theatre autumn programme seems dominated by plays featuring ghosts and the on-stage playing of music instruments!

Pits and Perverts is in the Lyric Theatre at 8pm this week (until Saturday 11) at the end of its UK tour. Tickets £10.

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