Review – Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Harold Pinter Theatre, 15th April 2017

Who's Afraid of Virginia WoolfMrs Chrisparkle was more like my carer than my wife as I slowly shuffled into the Comedy – I mean Harold Pinter – Theatre to see Saturday’s matinee of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. I’d been feeling lousy with a virus since midweek, but on Good Friday I finally flopped and it was only the prospect of seeing Imelda Staunton and Conleth Hill get the guests – and the fact that I didn’t want to waste £180 worth of theatre tickets – that made me drag myself out of my sick bed and limp to Leicester Square.

This will always be the Comedy Theatre to me“So, what’s the play all about”, Mrs C asked me in my occasional lucid moments on the train into town. “Oh… two older people have two younger people round for drinks”. Well, that’s not wrong, is it? “And that’s what makes it one of the 20th century’s best plays, is it?” “Well, it’s symbolic as well.” And after that, I think I nodded off. Tracts, theses, chapters, essays and more have been written as to what it’s all about, so I’m hardly likely (or indeed intelligent enough) to encapsulate it in a quick paragraph or two, particularly with my manflu. University types George and Martha (the original President and First Lady, as my English teacher Bruce Ritchie liked to point out) verbally tear each other limb from limb through endless bottles of late-night liquor. He both plays up to and despises his own personal failures, which she endlessly mocks too; he also humiliates her for her drunkenness and tendency to keep her dress over her head. There’s no point both exercising and exorcising these themes unless they have an audience; so, the arrival of new boy Nick and his ineffectual wife Honey is the perfect opportunity for them to unleash their catalogue of fun and games. Not to mention their son, of course… which Martha unfortunately does… which hurtles the relationship further towards its own endgame.

Imelda StauntonAs well as being an examination of a breakdown of a marriage, it’s an examination of the breakdown of American Society, particularly its culture – no, it is, honestly. George quotes from Oswald Spengler’s Decline of the West: “and the West, encumbered by crippling alliances, and burdened with a morality too rigid to accommodate itself to the swing of events, must…eventually…fall.” Cold war? USA v. USSR? Or George v. Martha? George describes the university campus variously as Illyria, Penguin Island (the dystopian satiric version of Anatole France I presume, and not the tourist attraction off the coast of Perth), Gomorrah, New Carthage, (after all, George does say he was born around the time of the Punic Wars) and Parnassus (home of the Muses – Nick doesn’t get it). The very title is a pun on Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf, which they sang at the dreadful sounding party the evening before, a really self-conscious pompous way of combining pop culture with something more literary. They all think the song’s a scream. I think it makes them look like smartasses.

Conleth HillIt’s structured as a three-act play, each with its own title: “Fun and Games”, “Walpurgisnacht” and “The Exorcism”. Fun and Games – well, that doesn’t need explaining, as they ritualistically humiliate anyone and everyone. Walpurgisnacht is the eve of the feast day of St Walpurga, a celebration of sorcery and witches with bonfires and dancing; and we all know how that kind of thing can get out of hand. The Exorcism deals with the aftermath of the “death” of their son. With no sub plot, all set in the same place at the same time, it observes the classical unities (which is nice) – and even the death of the son isn’t seen; George reports that Crazy Billy from Western Union delivered a telegram. Coming in at three hours it’s a long play, but even so, I note that this production cuts the significant scene where Honey confesses to George that she’s scared of having children and doesn’t want any. I feel that does a disservice to the character of Honey, making her more vapidly inconsequential and less of an individual with their own concerns and problems. But, then, let’s face it, Honey isn’t really who’s on display here.

Luke TreadawayAnd that’s why everyone is in the auditorium: Imelda Staunton as Martha, and Conleth Hill as George. I can’t think of anyone more appropriate for the role of Martha as Ms Staunton, and from the moment she appears, cursing her head off, you know you’re in for a treat. Aggressive Martha, intimate Martha, cutesypie Martha, dismissive Martha, mocking Martha, and even that rare beast appreciative Martha, she’s in total control of the character, even if her character isn’t in control of anything much. It’s a supreme performance, just as you knew it would be. Conleth Hill is new to me – although looking at his biography I’ve no idea how that can be – and he’s absolutely superb at playing George’s irritating verbal games. As Nick says, he sets each question up as a trap so that you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t, and there’s no quarter given as he pounces on any perceived weakness. I’ve no idea if this was intentional but both Mrs C and I thought there was an element of Donald Trump about the throwaway delivery of some of his lines that made them even more generally unpleasant. And you sense the threat behind anything he says or does is really tangible – you wouldn’t cross this man.

Imogen PootsLuke Treadaway is great as the much-toyed-with Nick, aggressively by George, sexually by Martha; a perfect physical representation of that All-American Hero but with too many insecurities and flaws to carry it off. There’s not a lot that the character can do apart from attempt to hold his own in argument or conflict with his hosts, both together and individually, and Mr Treadaway achieves this extremely well. Imogen Poots is delightful as the vacuous Honey, performing her interpretative dance to the second movement of Beethoven 7, slowly realising that George’s round of Get The Guests is aimed at her, and regularly teetering off to be sick in the john.

Imelda Staunton and Conleth HillBut it’s those endless rounds of verbal fencing between George and Martha that remain with you after this production, and the fact that they perform them with such split-second accuracy of timing and expression is an amazing achievement. James Macdonald’s wonderful production runs at the Comedy – I mean Harold Pinter – until May 27th.

Dancing with Virginia WoolfP. S. I note that the language has been beefed up a bit. When George throws open the door to reveal the arrival of Nick and Honey, in the original version Martha was yelling “Screw You” at him. In this production that’s been replaced by a simple “F**k!” The F-word appears in a few other scenes too. It was very effective – if you’re waiting to come in to a party and the door opens to reveal your hostess screaming “F**k!” at the top of her voice, there’s no way you can pretend that you didn’t know you were in for a rough time.

Production photos by Johan Persson

 

Review of the year 2014 – The Fifth Annual Chrisparkle Awards

Once again our esteemed panel of one has met to consider all the wonderful shows we’ve seen in the previous year so that we can distribute plaudits to the arts world in Northampton, Sheffield, Leicester and beyond! Actors, directors and producers, musicians, dancers and entertainers have all striven to make it to the 2014 Chrisparkle Awards short list, which this year relates to shows I have seen and blogged between 17th January 2014 and 11th January 2015. There’s lots to get through, so let’s start!

As always, the first award is for Best Dance Production (Contemporary and Classical).

I saw six dance productions last year, all of which I remember with much admiration and affection, from which I have struggled to whittle down to a shortlist of four. And here are the top three:

In 3rd place, the powerful and hard-hitting dance version by Matthew Bourne of Lord of the Flies, which we saw in May at the Birmingham Hippodrome.

In 2nd place, the marvellously inventive, comic and moving modern dance drama, Drunk, by Drew McOnie’s McOnie Company, which I saw at the Leicester Curve in January and again at the Bridewell Theatre in February.

In 1st place, a company absolutely at the peak of its powers, the stunning programme by Richard Alston Dance Company that we saw at the Royal and Derngate, Northampton, in September.

Classical Music Concert of the Year.

Of the five concerts we saw in 2014, these are the top three:

In 3rd place, the Night with the Stars gala concert, by the Worthing Symphony Orchestra aka the Malcolm Arnold Festival Orchestra, with soloists Julian Bliss and Martin James Bartlett at the Derngate, in October.

In 2nd place, John Williams plays Rodrigo’s Guitar Concerto, plus Stephen Goss’ Guitar Concerto and Gershwin’s An American in Paris, with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra at the Derngate in June.

In 1st place, Mozart’s Requiem, together with Alexandra Dariescu’s performance of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No 21, with the RPO at the Derngate in February.

Best Entertainment Show of the Year.

This is the all-purpose, everything else category that includes pantos, circuses, reviews and anything else hard to classify.

In 3rd place, The Burlesque Show at the Royal Theatre, Northampton, in January 2014.

In 2nd place, the amazingly entertaining and funny two hours of magic in Pete Firman’s Trickster show, at the Royal, Northampton, in November.

In 1st place, and I think I have categorised this correctly because you can’t call it either a play or a musical, but it is devastatingly funny, Forbidden Broadway, at the Menier Chocolate Factory in July.

Best Star Standup of the Year.

It was a very good year for seeing big star name stand-up comedians this year – we saw fifteen of them! Only a couple disappointed, so it’s been very hard to whittle down to a final five; but here goes:

In 5th place, Russell Brand in his Messiah Complex tour, at the Derngate in April.

In 4th place, John Bishop’s Work in Progress show at the Royal, in June.

In 3rd place, Paul Chowdhry’s PC’s World at the Royal, in October.

In 2nd place, Trevor Noah in his “The Racist” tour, also at the Royal, in January.

In 1st place, Russell Kane in his Smallness tour show at the Warwick Arts Centre in February.

Best Stand-up at the Screaming Blue Murder nights in Northampton.

Always a hotly contested award; Of the thirty-three comics that we’ve seen at Screaming Blue Murder last year thirteen made the shortlist, and the top five are:

In 5th place, the Plusnet man on the adverts, who cornered Mrs Chrisparkle and I into telling the entire audience how we met, Craig Murray (12th September)

In 4th place, a comedian whose made-up character of Troy Hawke reminded us of a filthy Clark Gable, Milo McCabe (26th September)

In 3rd place, the commanding, intelligent and ludicrous material of Brendan Dempsey (10th October)

In 2nd place, local lad the razor sharp Andrew Bird (16th May)

In 1st place, someone who took control of a baying audience in the funniest and most inventive way Russell Hicks (11th April).

Best Musical.

Like last year, this is a combination of new musicals and revivals, and we had fifteen to choose from. It was very tough indeed to pick between the top three, but somehow I did it. Here goes:

In 5th place, the ebullient and thoroughly enjoyable Guys and Dolls at the Chichester Festival Theatre in September.

In 4th place, the lively and inventive story of The Kinks in Sunny Afternoon at the Harold Pinter Theatre in December.

In 3rd place, the daring and emotional The Scottsboro Boys at the Garrick in December.

In 2nd place, the stylish and hilarious Dirty Rotten Scoundrels at the Savoy in September.

In 1st place, the stunning revival of Gypsy at the Chichester Festival Theatre in October.

Best New Play.

As always, this is my definition of a new play – so it might have been around before but on its first UK tour, or a new adaptation of a work originally in another format. An extremely difficult decision here as it involves comparing uproarious comedy with searing drama; but somehow I chose a final five from the nine contenders:

In 5th place, Alan Ayckbourn’s thought-provoking and very funny Arrivals and Departures, at the Oxford Playhouse in February.

In 4th place, the sombre and intense Taken at Midnight at the Minerva Theatre Chichester in October.

In 3rd place, the moving and beautiful Regeneration, at the Royal in September.

In 2nd place, the laugh-until-your-trousers-are-wet Play That Goes Wrong at the Royal in May.

In 1st place, the claustrophobic, immaculately staged and haunting The Body of an American Underground at the Royal and Derngate, Northampton, in March.

Best Revival of a Play.

Thirteen made the shortlist, easy to sort out a top nine, but really hard to sort out the top five:

In 5th place, the delightful Relative Values at the Harold Pinter in June.

In 4th place, the star-vehicle for Angela Lansbury but a strong production too of Blithe Spirit at the Gielgud in April.

In 3rd place, the atmospheric and brutal Dealer’s Choice at the Royal in June.

In 2nd place, the powerful yet funny Translations at the Sheffield Crucible in March.

In 1st place, the stunning, all-encompassing Amadeus at the Chichester Festival Theatre in August.

Brief pause to consider the turkey of the year – there were plenty of candidates this year, but in the end I plumped for the tedium-fest that was Wonderful Tennessee at the Lyceum Theatre Sheffield in March.

Best play – Edinburgh

In the first of three new awards, this category is for the best play we saw at the Edinburgh Fringe. It could be a comedy or a serious play, new or revival, grand scale or all perched on a couch. There were five serious contenders, and very tight at the top between two plays, but in the end I am awarding this new Chrisparkle award to Trainspotting performed by In Your Face Theatre at the Hill Street Drama Lodge.

Best entertainment – Edinburgh

The second new award is for the best show in Edinburgh that wasn’t a play – so it could be a musical, a review, comedy stand-up, magic, dance, you name it. And the winner is Margaret Thatcher, Queen of Soho at the Assembly George Square Gardens.

Best film

The last of the three new awards is for the best film I’ve seen all year, no matter what its subject matter. Twelve Years a Slave and The Imitation Game came close, but I’m giving it to Pride.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Musical.

Ten contenders in the shortlist, but the top four were very easy to identify:

In 4th place, Jodie Prenger’s’s spirited Jane in Calamity Jane at the Milton Keynes Theatre in March.

In 3rd place, the amazingly versatile and surely soon to be a star Debbie Kurup in Anything Goes at the Sheffield Crucible in January 2015.

In 2nd place, the wonderfully funny and sad performance by Sophie Thompson as Miss Adelaide in Guys and Dolls at the Chichester Festival Theatre in September.

In 1st place, probably the strongest central performance by any performer in a musical ever, the extraordinary Imelda Staunton in Gypsy at the Chichester Festival Theatre in October.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Musical.

Again ten fine performances in the shortlist, but here’s my top five:

In 5th place, for his sheer joie de vivre, the dynamic George McGuire for his role as Dave Davies in Sunny Afternoon at the Harold Pinter in December.

In 4th place, Alexander Hanson’s strangely vulnerable title character in Stephen Ward at the Aldwych Theatre in February.

In 3rd place, Paul Michael Glaser’s funny, realistic and sincere Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof at the Derngate in April.

In 2nd place, Robert Lindsay for his sheer style and panache in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels at the Savoy in September.

In 1st place, Brandon Victor Dixon’s stunning performance as the principled, tragic Haywood Patterson in The Scottsboro Boys at the Garrick in December.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Play.

Twelve in the shortlist, but a relatively easy final three:

In 3rd place a wonderful comic tour de force from Sara Crowe in Fallen Angels at the Royal in February.

In 2nd place, the emotional but still very funny performance by Caroline Quentin in Relative Values at the Harold Pinter in June.

In 1st place, the strong, dignified performance by Penelope Wilton in Taken at Midnight at the Minerva Theatre Chichester in October.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Play.

Twenty-two contenders in my shortlist, and I whittled it down to this:

In 5th place, Aaron Neil for his hilarious portrayal of the useless police commissioner in Great Britain at the Lyttelton, National Theatre in July.

In 4th place, Rupert Everett still on amazing form as Salieri in Amadeus at the Chichester Festival Theatre in August.

In 3rd place, Kim Wall for his brilliant performance as the kindly Barry in Arrivals and Departures at the Oxford Playhouse in February.

In 2nd place (or maybe 1st), William Gaminara as Paul in The Body of an American Underground at the Royal and Derngate in March.

In 1st place (or maybe 2nd), Damien Molony as Dan also in The Body of an American Underground at the Royal and Derngate in March.

Theatre of the Year.

A new winner this year. For a remarkably strong programme, comfortable welcoming theatres, and a fantastically improved dining experience, this year’s Theatre of the Year award goes to the Festival Theatre/Minerva Theatre, Chichester, with the Royal and Derngate, Northampton, and the Menier Chocolate Factory, close behind.

It’s been a great year – and thanks to you gentle reader for accompanying me on the trip. I hope we have another fantastic year of theatre to enjoy together in 2015!

Review – Gypsy, Chichester Festival Theatre, 11th October 2014

GypsySo, here I am, a regular theatregoer for the last 45 years or so, but I’d never seen a production of Gypsy (A Musical Fable) before. My only links to the show are having twice seen the wonderful Side By Side By Sondheim – once with the original cast in 1977 and once at the (relatively) recent revival at the Donmar – as two of Side by Side’s highlights are If Momma Was Married and You Gotta Get a Gimmick. My other link is just hearsay, as the Dowager Mrs Chrisparkle saw the show with Bernadette Peters as Rose on Broadway in 2003 on what was to be the Dowager’s final swansong abroad – and I remember she came back bubbling over with enthusiasm for it.

Imelda StauntonGypsy is based on the memoirs of Gypsy Rose Lee, but if you don’t know the story – and let’s face it, it’s a bit historical now – you may well be surprised by the way the plot turns and develops. What seem to be minor roles assume unexpected significance later on and similarly major roles just fizzle out during the course of Rose’s lifetime. But it’s easy to fall foul of what one might term Rose Confusion. The Rose in question is in fact the mother of Gypsy Rose Lee, a determined, fearless, but tactless control freak who gains vicarious delight in pushing her two daughters into stardom, milking every cliché en route (maybe that explains the pantomime cow) and to hell with the artistry. Rose is at the centre of the show; she is like an unstoppable ten-ton truck hurtling down the freeway of life with the other characters representing any other traffic that inevitably have to give way in order to survive without ending up in A&E.

Kevin WhatelyOriginally produced in 1959, Gypsy reunited the successful West Side Story combo of Arthur Laurents (book), Stephen Sondheim (then aged 29 – lyrics) and Jerome Robbins (choreography). Unlike West Side Story, the composer was Jule Styne, (more showbizzy and less classical than Leonard Bernstein). Many commentators have described Gypsy as The Greatest American Musical Of All Time, but I don’t think I can hold with that opinion. Yes it’s got some wonderful songs, but you need more than that. There are some elements of repetition that drag it out just a little longer than it needs (primarily those cringily awful routines inflicted on Louise, June and the Newsboys) and one or two songs that dip into sentimentality – Little Lamb, for example, is really quite nauseating.

Lara PulverWhat it does do – brilliantly – is progress its storyline relentlessly as we follow Rose through her life. Every scene drives the story forward – you’ve even got Brechtian scrolling scene titles at the side of the stage defining what happens each step of the way. Just as in real life, people appear unexpectedly and make an impact on you at certain stages and then later on they move out of your life; so it is with Gypsy, with at least two significant roles only appearing for a limited time before they are heard of no more. This makes for a slightly unbalanced presentation – if you were hoping for some nice easy tie-ups of the loose threads to create a happy ending, think again. Real life isn’t always like that, and it’s the show’s grip on reality that gives it its really hard edge. When Louise finally, accidentally, falls into stardom of a completely unpredictable kind, the show switches axis, making a big stopover to examine Louise’s success story, whilst losing sight of Rose, its original driver. At that point you feel that the show is going to end on an anti-climax; the younger rises when the old doth fall, as King Lear’s Edmund would say. But Rose comes back with the electric finale number Rose’s Turn, firmly re-routing the show’s sat-nav back on to its original course and ultimate destination.

Gemma SuttonThis is a hugely powerful show, given a stunning production by Jonathan Kent’s direction and Stephen Mear’s choreography. Everything about its appearance is perfect, from the sets (backstage theatre rooms, cramped apartments, ludicrously colourful scenes for the excesses of Baby June’s performances), to the costumes and lighting. Nicholas Skilbeck’s amazing orchestra is sensational. It’s hard to imagine how any of it could be staged better. But if ever a show relied on performances this is the one.

Natalie Woods and Anita Louise CombeI don’t think I’ve ever seen a show dominated so completely by one performer as this. Not in a selfish, hogging-the-limelight sort of way, but in a genuinely extraordinary performance that lights up not only all of Chichester but all of Sussex too, I should imagine. Imelda Staunton’s Rose is simply breath-taking. She’s a little lady, but boy can she sing and her understanding of the role is immense. Not only is her Rose a showbiz mother from hell, she is near-demented in her pressing ambition for her children. Her tunnel vision only has room for stage success, and to hell with the personal consequences. When she sings Everything’s Coming up Roses, with its mind-bending metaphors of sunshine and Santa Claus, bright lights and lollipops, you can almost hear the synapses snap crackle and pop in her head, whilst Louise looks on aghast at what’s headed her way. For me it was one of those classic moments when a show-tune you know really well suddenly takes on its original context from its musical framework that you didn’t know, and thereby acquires a completely different meaning. I always thought of the song as being the ultimate in optimism and good fortune; I now realise it’s almost the total opposite.

Imelda Staunton as RoseStanding ovations are given far too frequently in my opinion, but this was one time when it was a no-brainer. As soon as Ms Staunton came on for her curtain call the packed Festival Theatre stood in one clean sweep as if we had been rehearsing it all afternoon. No looking around to see if anyone else was standing, no hesitation as to when you should stand – it was as though all the world’s Mexican waves had simultaneously arrived at the Festival Theatre.

Lara Pulver as LouiseWe really enjoyed the performance by Kevin Whately as Herbie, although I confess I did not understand one word of his first two lines, as he audibly settled himself down somewhere halfway between Yonkers and Tyneside. Once he got into the swing of it, he was great, and there’s definitely something of the Jimmy Durante in his portrayal of the long-suffering Herbie. His not being a natural song-and-dance man actually stood him in good stead for his part in Together Wherever We Go, giving him some nice comic touches as an antidote to his vocal input. It’s a wonderful song about teamwork, with Ms Staunton and Mr Whately being joined by Lara Pulver as Louise, who grows her character in confidence throughout the second act into her amazing transformation as the striptease sensation Gypsy Rose Lee.

Kevin Whately as HerbieThe whole cast are superb. Gemma Sutton is great as June, the daughter with (apparently) all the talent, pushed into prominence by her mother, irradiating glamour and showbiz panache. There are some very smart performances by Dan Burton as Tulsa, practising out his dance routine (sensationally well) whilst Louise watches on in besotted admiration, Natalie Woods as the sweetly enthusiastic Agnes, and Anita Louise Combe as the gutsy Tessie Tura who together with Louise Gold and Julie Legrand turn in a hilarious rendition of You Gotta Get a Gimmick which brings the house down. And you cannot forget the astonishing talent of the young performers who play Baby June and Baby Louise, plus all the very young newsboys – I believe we saw Georgia Pemberton play Baby June in our preview performance and she was simply extraordinary.

But there’s no question that the night belongs to Imelda Staunton. If you had the remotest doubt whether or not she was a star before, that question is most certainly answered now. Surely this must transfer to the West End?

Review – Pride, Errol Flynn Filmhouse, Northampton, 7th October 2014

Pride1984-85 – the Miners’ Strike. Those were hard times. Daily news coverage of clashes between strikers, police, pickets, “scabs”; daily coverage of families scrabbling around for food; daily coverage of resolute politicians from all parties refusing to compromise; daily coverage of the gladiatorial combat between Thatcher and Scargill. No matter your own politics, people and communities were suffering. No matter where you lived or whether you were directly affected or not, nobody was immune from this strike. Even in leafy Buckinghamshire where I lived, about as far away from a coalfield as you could get, I wore my “Coal not dole” badge. We’d buy extra tins of food at the supermarket and donated them to the miners’ stall outside. I also remember feeling very relieved that I hadn’t been shortlisted for an interview for the job I applied for working in management at the National Coal Board a couple of years earlier.

Bill Nighy and Imelda StauntonLike Billy Elliott and The Full Monty, Pride is another British film that takes those savage days and creates something really positive out of them. But whereas those other films are works of pure fiction, Pride tells the true story of the Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners group, operating out of the Gay’s The Word bookshop in Bloomsbury, the characterful activists who worked there and raised funds for the miners, and of their association with the Dulais mine in South Wales, and their wish to help the community there. Andrew ScottBut the course of true altruism never runs smoothly, and not everyone in those traditional, working-class, chapel, areas relished the attention of a diverse bunch of homosexuals from London. In the course of the film friendships are forged, fortresses are broached, seemingly insurmountable differences are reconciled and those few people who cannot find it in their heart to overcome their prejudices are left behind.

Ben SchnetzerEssentially this is a film about solidarity. The gay activists have solidarity with the miners, as an oppressed minority supporting another oppressed minority. There are also questions of solidarity between the members of each side of the equation – the differences of opinion within the LGSM group, and between the different families in the mining community. Activist Gethin was estranged from his mother for many years but regains support from her when she eventually comes back into his life. The opposite is the case for young Joe, whose supportive family turn against him when they discover his secrets. And it is indeed also a film about pride. Pride in who you are and what you can do when the world is not your friend. Pride that gives you the self-confidence to go out on a limb and to bear the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune as a badge of honour – like the successful “Pits and Perverts” fund-raising event, taking Rupert Murdoch’s attempt at an insult and using it as a mission statement. Anything that sticks two fingers up at The Sun is Fine By Me.

Dominic WestTop billing is given to Bill Nighy and Imelda Staunton, who are indeed excellent. Mr Nighy plays Cliff, the quiet, thoughtful but passionate Elder Statesman of the mining community, delightfully unfazed by the arrival of the gays; and Ms Staunton is Hefina, one of the strike committee women, endlessly fighting for the survival of the community. Her staunch approach to equality is heart-warming to watch, and there’s one hilarious scene where she and her ladies discover a stash of gay porn – I don’t think naughty laughter has ever sounded so funny.

Faye Marsay and George MackayBut these are relatively small roles, and I was really impressed by some of the other younger and maybe less well known performers. Ben Schnetzer is brilliant as Mark Ashton, the Northern Irish Communist leader (or as close to a leader as they got) of the LGSM. Brash yet vulnerable, you find yourself willing him through all his challenges and really admiring his indomitable spirit. Jessica Gunning plays a feisty Siân, idealistic but very practical, irritated by her husband’s lack of backbone. There’s a wonderful scene when she gives the police what forGeorge Mackay leading the protestit’s a great example of an ordinary person becoming assertive against authority and it’s really funny. Andrew Scott gives a very touching performance as Gethin, ill at ease, verging on depressed, full of sadness for the family life he has had to leave behind; and Dominic West gives a really strong performance as Gethin’s partner Jonathan, in real life the second person ever to be diagnosed as HIV positive, giving it large on the dance floor much to the delight of the Welsh women and inspiring some of the Welsh men to loosen up a bit too.

Lisa PalfreyThere is excellent support from Faye Marsay as the punky Steph, at first the lone lesbian sticking up for her rights within the group; Paddy Considine as Dai, the visionary local mining leader who had the guts to have the initial meeting with the LGSM and convinced his community that the two groups have more in common than not; and Lisa Palfrey as the hard-hearted Maureen who cannot be shaken from her prejudiced and vindictive viewpoint. There’s a great comic performance from Menna Trussler as Gwen, who’s curious to know absolutely everything about lesbians and greets them regularly with disarming joy. Menna TrusslerBut perhaps best of all is George Mackay as young Joe, tentatively finding his feet and discovering who he is, a character who brings to mind aspects of Bronski Beat’s Smalltown Boy. It’s a very moving performance. Keep your eye out for a few excellent cameos too, including Russell Tovey as an ex-boyfriend of Mark who clearly hasn’t resolved being “ex-“, and a terrific one-liner from veteran comedy actress Deddie Davies.

Mining ladiesIt’s a beautifully written film that never shies away from the gritty reality of the situation faced by both groups, nor does it descend into sentimentality. It’s full of exhilarating characters and has some very funny lines, and there’s an enormous feelgood factor about the whole film. My guess is that if you’re a right-wing homophobe there’s not going to be much in this film to entertain you; but you’d probably be put off by the title anyway. Paddy ConsidineThe final credits tell you what happened to some of the characters in the intervening years. Some of it will astonish and delight you; some of it will leave you with a heavy heart. A really rewarding look back at a time of conflict and how solidarity, tolerance and equality grew from it. Like a fine wine, this film is going to get even better in the years to come.