THEATRE REVIEW: Queens of the Coal Age – Royal Exchange Theatre Manchester

Queens of the Coal Age – Royal Exchange Theatre

Fancy watching a play that makes you laugh out loud? One with a fantastic female cast of strong women who aren’t afraid to admit their weaknesses? How about a play written by the ever-fantastic actress Maxine Peake? Then Queens of the Coal Age is the play for you.

Currently showing at the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester until the 28th July, Queens of the Coal Age is a play about four ordinary women, who faced with the closure of their local pit and concerned about the impact that will have on the husband’s livelihoods and the livelihoods of their entire community decide to occupy Parkside Colliery, a pit scheduled for closure over the Easter weekend of 1993.

The play is based on the true story of members of Women Against Pit Closures and their desire to take a stand. Faced with threats of physical violence and bribery the women hold their nerve. Deep beneath the ground they form a bond which forms the main thrust of the play.

What I loved about this play was that was unashamedly crammed full of Northern wit, that even as a non-Northern, I found myself laughing at. The actresses displayed excellent comic timing, making fun of each other and the situation they’ve placed themselves in. It’s the acting and the comradery between the women that really make this play and one of the main reasons to go see it. Even if you have no interest in politics or the miners strikes you should still go and see this.

I laughed out loud during the scenes of the women pretending to be on E at a rave, or when things got heated, Ann Scargill (wife of the infamous Arthur Scargill) goes and takes an invisible dog for a walk. Then there’s the jokes about Wigan pie-eaters.

Yes, this is a political play but it makes the political personal. By choosing the topic of pit closures for her first stage play Maxine is using her influence to reveal the role that women played in the history of the mines. Far from passive onlookers, the play shows the lengths the wives of miners were willing to go to. These women do deserve as much recognition as the striking miners. The women knew that morale was low and that the mines were still going to close but they felt it was still something worth fighting for.

Queens of the Coal Age review at Royal Exchange Theatre Manchester
Queens of the Coal Age cast


Yes, it’s a feminist play of sorts, but it’s also one about class and race. These working-class women who aren’t expected to amount to much. They’re fighting not just against pit closures but also against the misogyny surrounding the strikes and the coal mining which was seen as the male domain.

Queens of the Coal Age also benefits not just from a witty script, full of fantastic dialogue and strong female characters but displays the real directorial strength of Bryony Shanahan who I’m sure will get better and better with time. If I had any criticism it would be that at times it lacked the ‘drama’ a play needs especially since the set design is sparse in an attempt to capture the claustrophobic nature of the bottom of a mine. There is a lot of sitting and standing around talking rather than any real action and in this way it shows that this was based on a radio play.

However, this didn’t take away from my enjoyment of he play. I’m sure this will also have a particular resonance for those that were involved in the strikes. So, if you’re looking for a play that will make you laugh but also make you think then give Queens of the Coal Age a try.

If you’re interested in more theatre reviews then head over to my dedicated ‘theatre page’ on the home screen for some of the recent plays I’ve seen. Theatre area

Box Office tickets

Or you can call the Box Office on: 161 833 9833

Royal Exchange Theatre
St Ann’s Square
Manchester
M2 7DH

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