Chris Urch’s full-length debut play, first staged at Theatre503, has been revived in the West End and runs at Trafalgar Studios for a month.
It’s 1979. Thatcher is on the rise, but a thousand feet underground six Welsh miners are trapped, reliant on help from above to rescue them. They find inventive ways to pass the time, they ration food and water, they work, they wait: but forced to endure one another for prolonged periods in close proximity, it’s not long before deeply hidden secrets and old animosities rise to the surface.
The premise sounds bleak, but whilst Land of Our Fathers is poignant and at times stiflingly claustrophobic – the audience spends a few hours trapped down a mine with the characters – it is also very, very funny. Wicked one-liners and wry observations light up every minute, especially in the first act (and we’re partial to an Angela Rippon reference). Urch has created six human beings whose company you want to be in, and whose fates you care desperately about. Witnessing the hopes and dreams and regrets of the miners play out within the microcosm of a collapsed mine makes for gripping, emotionally-charged drama. Land of our Fathers may well move you to tears: but you’re guaranteed to laugh. Chris Urch has penned a classic.
You won’t find a better ensemble anywhere in the West End. Clive Merrison is superb as Bomber, bringing all his wealth of experience to the part of the elder statesman of the group. Bomber’s sardonic humour and foul-mouthed put-downs are pitched perfectly by Merrison, and his steady presence holds the group together. The mix of older and younger actors provides a rich dynamic. Taylor Jay-Davies and Kyle Rees create a heartfelt sibling rivalry as brothers with wholly diverse world views. Joshua Price is delightful as the young, innocent and scatterbrained Mostyn, who has to grow up very quickly – which Price pinpoints with great skill; whilst Robert East is solid as the affable and noble Polish immigrant Hovis.
Urch masterfully ratchets up unremitting tension in the second act, and it’s here that Patrick Brennan’s Chopper undergoes a remarkable transformation. Brennan gives a performance of steadily-encroaching madness that will both terrify and tear at your heartstrings. The combination of masterful writing and acting means that Land of our Fathers is the most engrossing and powerful theatrical experience you are likely to have any time soon. First rate set design, lighting and sound effects help to shore up the illusion of the mine, enabling the actors to take you on the astonishing journey from the opening moment. It’s a show that impresses on every level.
We voted Land of our Fathers our top show of 2013 when we saw it at Theatre503. We’re delighted to discover it’s lost none of its potency, and has found another natural home at Trafalgar Studios. Land of our Fathers defines immersive theatre. Go see it – you’ll never forget it.
Check out our interview with Clive Merrison in which he talks about the show and returning to the role of Bomber.