Review: In Time O’ Strife, Pathhead Hall, Kirkcaldy (Daily Telegraph)

This drama, written in 1926 to raise funds to support striking Scottish miners, works better as a piece of history than theatre, says Mark Brown.

It is easy to think of the “kitchen sink drama” as a genre that   began in the north of England in the late Fifties with such classics as A   Taste of Honey and Saturday Night and Sunday Morning. However, as the   National Theatre of Scotland and its associate director Graham McLaren seem determined to   prove, a similar kind of social realism, focused on the travails of   working-class people, emerged north of the border in the early 20th century. TimeOStrife_2693559b

In 2011, McLaren staged (for the NTS) a fine production of Ena Lamont   Stewart’s 1947 play Men Should Weep; a drama of poverty in the Glasgow slums   in the 1930s, which the National Theatre in London had presented, to   critical acclaim, just the year before. Now he has adapted and directed In   Time O’ Strife, coal miner Joe Corrie’s 1926 play, which was written as a   means of raising funds to support the soup kitchens for striking Fife miners   and their families.

In its depiction of the desperate hunger and the bitter conflicts of the final   weeks of the dispute (which lasted far beyond the nine days of the 1926   General Strike, for seven months), the play takes on the aspect of a Greek   tragedy. However, it is difficult to escape the fact that – even if one adds   music, song and (in truth, pretty dubious) dance, as McLaren does here – the   work is more interesting as a historical document than as a piece of   theatre.

There is a heavy, polemical aspect to the script which militates against   Corrie’s naturalistic intent. A miners’ discussion of the condition of the   strike descends quickly into slogan and cliché. The decision to have a young   child vocalist join the band seems gratuitously sentimental, given the   already considerable pathos of the play.

Ironically, images of the 1984-85 Miners’ Strike, which are flashed on a TV   screen above the stage, often prove more poignant than the drama that is   played out, by a variable ensemble, below. The documentary footage evokes   powerfully the swinging pendulum of power in the 20th century, from the   defeat of the miners’ union in 1926, to its victory over Ted Heath’s   government in 1974, to its effective demise at the hands of Margaret   Thatcher and Ian MacGregor in 1985.

At Pathhead Hall, Kirkcaldy until October 12. For further information, visit:

Mark Brown

This review was originally published on the website of the Daily Telegraph on October 5, 2013:

© Mark Brown


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