Review: Land of our Fathers @ Theatre503, Battersea



The show is running until October 12.

By Joe Short

Land of our Fathers looks set for a successful run in Battersea’s Theatre503 after an encouraging performance of masculine pride, frustration and depravity.

Debut playwright Chris Urch casts us into the heat and darkness of the late 70s coal industry – flourishing on the strength of the unions but under threat as Thatcherism dawns.

In the backdrop of the Tories’ coming to power, six men find themselves trapped down a Welsh coalmine as a result of an explosion caused by the youngest and most endearing of characters, Mostyn (Joshua Price).

The dialogue is fast, panicky and unpredictable as each miner battles his personal demons underneath a mile of coal. Bomber (Clive Merrison, The History Boys) steals the first act with the downbeat pride of a miner with coal in his veins – the rapid facial ticks of a man coping under stress ravish Merrison’s face.

Mostyn’s character, meanwhile, is by far the most interesting of the sextet. A fatherless 18-year-old boy on his first real job, who causes the initial collapse, forgets vital rations and becomes the target of everyone’s ire.

Urch’s use of the youngster is striking, for Mostyn represents more than a scared boy. He is a clean orange suit that blackens with coal as the true character of a child panicked and intimidated comes to life. The easy target of the group, characters take turns lambasting and consoling Mostyn in equal measures – he is both physically and mentally trapped.

Urch is part of the 503five, a collaboration of writers who put their original works forward for consideration at Theatre503.

“The play was chosen simply because we felt it was the best one,” explained literary coordinator Graeme Thompson.

“The whole creative team at the theatre read them and discussed them and out of that process it was Land of Our Fathers that was chosen to take forward to production.”

While these scenes develop Mostyn’s character, Land of our Fathers struggles to fully address its other protagonists’ problems. Bomber’s reserve means we never see his true qualities while deputy Chopper (Patrick Brennan) only unravels after 90 minutes of mounting stress, frustration and a mutiny.

Scenes where other characters confront their anxieties appear forced – such as Curley’s suggested homosexuality – and only Mostyn gets a proper chance to resolve these issues.

Bettering yourself is what lies at the heart of Land of our Fathers yet its ending leaves the audience wondering ‘have these six men evolved at all?’ Mostyn, at least, in one final standoff with Chopper, gets his epiphany.

As rich as this text is, far too many stories go unresolved – an intentional technique by Urch or a struggle to contain too many ideas? It doesn’t matter, for the intensity of the drama and brief comic interludes carry us through with interest and empathy.

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