Written and directed by Ade Morris
Presented by Quidem Productions in association with Universal Arts
20th/21st April 2012
Lantern Theatre

Reviewed by Alun Parry

We all like a play with a happy ending. Dust at The Lantern Theatre had a happy beginning. Thatcher dies. We watch Arthur Scargill discover the news in his apartment. Both legacies, his and hers, are then placed under scrutiny for the remainder of the play.

Thought provoking and engaging, Dust weaved together some interesting strands of life in post Thatcher (but not post Thatcherite) society, while comparing Scargill with his own idol, the 1920s General Secretary of the Miners' Federation of GB, Arthur Cook.

On the day before Thatcher’s funeral, Scargill receives a visit from a dying North East ex-miner, Lawrence Davies, to the concern of Scargill’s publisher Barbara.

Running parallel, we see the story of a young Doncaster couple - Chris, a public sector worker, and his pregnant wife Maggie - who face the effects of cuts, privatisations and redundancies.

Chris must apply for his own job, worried both for his family’s future and the futures of the service users who depend on him.

Lawrence is revealed to be his father and a Labour councillor, who has drifted from militancy in1984 to implementing cuts today, while his son remains steadfast to his father’s former principles, although this dichotomy isn’t really explored, more which was a shame.

Chris is interesting as he represents the post-mining generation, as well as those mineworkers who after the strike retrained into other jobs.

Lawrence tells Scargill: “There’s a lot of sentimental shite talked about mining. Being a miner was a shitty job.”

Yet Chris’s story doesn’t show the sons of miners rescued from the bowels of the earth, but instead living with the constant threat of redundancy, the indignity of applying for a job you already do, and in Chris’s case, failing at interview to get his own job.

Capitalism it seems is out to get you whether down the pit or working elsewhere, as both Chris and Arthur Cook point out.

On hearing of Thatcher’s demise, Barbara joked that it would be good publicity for Meryl Streep and might shift some more of “those DVDs”. ‘The Iron Lady’ film was referenced again later, stating that half of those who saw it were too young to know who she was, and the other half felt sorry for her.

By the same token, I couldn’t help wonder how those with no prior knowledge of Arthur Scargill would view him from this play. I wondered too what the playwright wanted us to think of Scargill.

He was characterised as somewhat detached from the working class members he represented.

When faced with the rough and ready Lawrence Davies, it seemed that Scargill was more like a retired bank manager who had never quite encountered such a horny handed son of toil before, and was a fish out of water as a result.

You would never think that this was the man who was arrested on the picket lines in the face of the most extreme and orchestrated State violence.

The toughest questions of the play, at least explicitly, were put to Scargill too. 180,000 members down to 1,600. No coal mining industry left to fight on with.

Accusations too that he was stuck in his ivory tower, and that the union’s members were paying their subs to keep him in his penthouse apartment.

Meanwhile Lawrence reveals that he gave his own redundancy money to the Miners Benevolent Fund and challenges Scargill as to whether he did the same, prompting a defensive yet unconvincing “I do my bit!”

Given that Lawrence Davies is an entirely fictional character, one can only wonder the impression that writer Ade Morris sought to convey.

Of course, it is true that the coal mining industry was decimated, but it was Scargill who appeared to be taken to the edge of blame for this, not Thatcher, and not the leadership of the trade union movement generally.

Dust received a standing ovation and it is easy to see why. The play is really well put together with moments of genuine humour despite a heart wrenching story of family and mental breakdown, and was superbly acted.

It triggered much discussion afterwards too, as the various elements of the play were thought through and teased out.

Scargill’s hero Cook closes the play by telling us that we are not judged by our peers, but by the next generation in terms of what gains have been won for working people. The play’s message appears to be that Scargill’s legacy is judged negatively by that test.

For me, this is a harsh and unfair conclusion. Scargill led the most important working class fight of my lifetime and came remarkably close to winning. There has not been a British working class leader of recent times who has been prepared to take on the ruling class as he did.

Yet Cook also warns us of the corrosiveness of capitalism, and how it would make our sons and daughters slaves. Prophetic words to finish on in these times of workfare.

I would recommend Dust. It is an interesting play, well written and with fine acting, and it held my interest throughout. But I have real misgivings about Scargill’s portrayal.

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Comment left by john o0ho on 30th April, 2012 at 21:47
the miners strike was a very influential strike on a worldwide scale not just here in gb. the black workers in capetown illegally formed numsa union of south african miners that played a role in ending apartheid there. other workers around the world watched as the tenacious battle between state forces and miners was relayed despite the distortions of murdochs press here, as we in liverpool too came close to the brink of a revolutionary turnover. with hidsight it is easier to condemn than to understand the forces involved, like we could reproach our grandparents for 1926 general strike or the second world war for that matter, but trying to lay the blame on scargill, who became a media hate figure and scapegoat for the rich and their hireling press like derek hatton(symbolic of the militant working class of theis city) regardless of their foibles the noble class enemies will never see eye to eye. with people trying to put them out of business and emove them from the stage of history. sounds like a cracker of play ps. arthur j cook eventually sold out the miners strike in 1925 and played a role in 1926 general strike sellout and betrayal of the tuc although minor one no less treacherous. scargill refused to bend.like him or hate him.