Sheffield play looks at lives after miners’ strike

David Hounslow in rehearsals for Queen Coal
David Hounslow in rehearsals for Queen Coal
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Most people can remember where they were the day that Maggie Thatcher died but one of the stars of new Shefield play Queen Coal probably trumps everyone else.

David Hounslow was on stage in London with several members of Thatcher’s Tory cabinet!

He said; “I was on stage 
at the National Theatre in London, doing This House, a play about the Labour governments from 
Wilson to when Thatcher 
became Prime Minister in 1979.

“We had Government and Opposition seats on stage and members of the public could sit on the benches.

“Several of her old 
colleagues had booked to be on the benches and it 
fell on the day that she died. We didn’t think they 
would come but they were all there.

“It was electric and absolutely brilliant in the theatre as we had a recording of Thatcher speaking as part of the play.”

David said it also brought back memories of the day that Thatcher lost her job as prime minister. “The stage manager said, ‘She’s gone!’ We didn’t work for about an hour.”

David co-stars in Queen Coal, which has its world premiere at the Crucible Studio next week. The play is set on the day that Thatcher died and looks at an uneasy reunion between the three main characters, who are all from a South Yorkshire mining village.

David said: “I play an ex-miner, Ian, and the other two characters are my ex-wife and my sister. They are 
still exploring all that happened to them during the strike.

“Ian has been very active and political and very heavily involved in the strike.

“His wife has gone off and left, so he has to cope with the kids. The domestic world is a mystery to him and he has to learn. That side of it has changed him.”

He added: “This play is more about the women than the men, including the relationship between the ex-wife and the sister.

“You’ve got to be sensitive to the fact that all this is fiction and you’re part of a real world and factual events. You don’t tend to worry about that as an actor but we’re trying to be as faithful to the reality as we can.”

He has enjoyed preparations for the play, which included taking an underground tour at the National Coal Mining Museum near Wakefield.

He said: “You do all sorts of different stuff when you are preparing for theatre plays and this was one of 
the most useful things I’ve done.

“How many times do you get to go down a pit and see what it was like? Just going down in the cage has an effect on you, which you can carry into the character.

“When we met the 
real miners who work there we saw some of the humour
 and energy and the irreverence they have about everything. It’s very valuable 
to reflect that as a character.”

In the play Ian works as a guide in the museum and 
has very mixed feelings 
about reliving his mining days.

David said that the play is a reminder of how ordinary working people were suddenly demonised by the Tories and branded as troublemakers who wanted to bring the country to its knees. In the process the communities were destroyed.

The cast are well aware that many members of the audience will have been through the strike that they are portraying.

He said: “If you do a play like this with integrity, even if you make mistakes people forgive you if you treat them with respect.”

He has family links to the South Yorkshire coalfields. He said: “As a kid I had miners in my family and we used to come across to Barnsley and Wath from Oldham to visit family.

“When the strike was on I was actually in the Army, although I wasn’t involved in the strike. I came out and went to drama school just after that.

“When I came home on leave everywhere in the town centre people were collecting for the strike. I remember political stuff being on at college.”

He is still politically active himself as a member of the Labour Party and also in Labour Friends of the Armed Forces, and speaks passionately about the themes of the play.

“It’s not just about the closure of the pits and the demise of the mining communities, it’s about the destruction of the post-
war welfare system, the NHS and privatisation of everything we owned to start 
with. We’re still paying for that.”

Queen Coal starts tonight at the Crucible Studio and runs until November 22. Box office: Box office: at the 
Crucible, call 0114 249 6000 or go online to www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk