Review We’re Still Here, National Theatre Wales by Kevin Johnson

Over a year ago Port Talbot steelworks were put up for sale by Indian owners Tata Steel, threatening not only thousands of jobs but the future of the town itself. What followed was a campaign to save the last part of heavy industry in South Wales by people from all walks of life.

Rachel Trezise

This story has now been turned into a play by Rachel Trezise, in collaboration with the National Theatre Wales and Common Wealth Theatre Company. Set in an old factory that was once part of the steelworks, this is promenade-style theatre, where you ‘wander through’ the play and it happens around you. There are seats if you need them, and good disabled access, but at around 80 minutes, the play is brief enough to endure, yet long enough to shock.

Sam Coombes (Lewis)

With a core cast of five including real-life steelworker Sam Coombes as Lewis, this is both spacious and intimate. The cavernous building is juxtaposed with the intimacy of the workers, who tell their stories, and confide their fears, amidst the jovial banter. Also roaming among the audience are actual retirees, who share true stories about the works, and the oft hidden cost.

Jason May (Rob), Siôn Tudor Owen (Mark) & Simon Nehan (Kevin)

In the interests of full-disclosure I should mention that I was born here, and as a local the steelworks have always been a big part of my life. As one of the actors says:’if you can smell sulphur in the air, somebody’s getting paid’. Both my parents worked there, so in a way it paid for my upbringing. Steel is in our blood here, and with so many accidents over the years, our blood is certainly in the steel.

Designer/Dylunydd Russell Henry, Choreographer/Coreograffydd Vicki Manderson, Directors/Cyfarwyddwyr Rhiannon White & Evie Manning

Co-directed by Common Wealths Evie Manning & Rhiannon White, music, song, comedy and monologues are used to create an enthralling and fascinating piece of theatre. Watching so many people coming to my ‘home’ to be entertained, gave me such a feeling of pride.

This threatened closure is the latest in a long line of body blows that have hit Port Talbot, brought home by the scene where the names of some of the 750 already made redundant are read out. A litany of damaged lives, counterpointed by the children the workers can’t see, ghosts from a lost future.

Sam Coombes (Lewis)

This isn’t sugar-coated either. At one point, in a gladiatorial arena of chairs shared by cast and audience alike, grievances are expressed with a violent passion. Characters turn on each other, unsure of the best course of action to take. One blames the union organiser, who then quietly reveals that his marriage has become a hidden casualty of the fight.

That’s a key element here: how long do you keep on fighting? When do you know when the cause is lost? What if all you have left is the struggle? The whole play roars a magnificent defiance at the world, but beneath that you can hear the scream of a wounded animal.

Ioan Hefin (Adrian) & Jason May (Rob)

If the steelworks closes it’ll be devastating to the town and its people, should that be allowed to happen? I’ll give the last word to Dic Penderyn, a local martyr hanged for rioting in the 1830’s, who’s last words on the scaffold are quoted in the play:

“O arglwdd dymma gamwedd, O Lord, what injustice.”

http://nationaltheatrewales.org/were-still-here

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