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On Behalf of the People review at Crucible Theatre, Sheffield – ‘poignant and moving’

Kate Wood and Danny Mellor in The Melting Shop production of On Behalf of the People. Photo: Tom Jackson
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Coal mining is obviously a subject close to South Yorkshire hearts, but Ray Castleton hasn’t taken the easy option of writing about the miner’s strike. Instead, his play On Behalf of the People focuses on the post-war years, telling the story of a family in a pit village during the years of rebuilding after hostilities.

Castleton’s play consists of a series of vignettes exploring the tensions between Tommy (Danny Mellor), a soldier returning home from the war, his parents and his girlfriend Liz (Lizzie Frain). The wind of change is in the air, and some of the most moving scenes come when the family try to come to terms with this new world – Tommy’s curmudgeonly father making a passionate speech for a post-war Labour government, or Liz railing against the union which now sees her father as a scab.

The play avoids sentimentality and cliché, and his cast deliver his words beautifully. Ray Ashcroft is particularly good as George, the elderly miner still haunted by the death of his elder son, while Mellor is a perfect foil, wracked with guilt after his wartime experiences. When the actors aren’t on stage, they’re sat in the audience, as Sam Glossop’s clanking industrial score pulls us further into their lives.

There’s a bittersweet ending, as the characters look forward to a future that we know isn’t going to be nearly as bright as they think it will be. Castleton’s story may be set 60 years ago, but his championing of community values and solidarity are as relevant today as they’ve ever been.

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Ray Castleton's heartfelt portrait of a post-war mining family is moving, poignant and relevant