Chicken Soup – Review – Sheffield Studio Theatre
By Helen Johnston, February 2018
Winding wheels that once dominated the skyline of Yorkshire pit villages have been laid low and the slag heaps have been grassed over, all traces of the bitter 1984 miners’ strike seemingly gone.
But the year-long fight that became a stand-off between the NUM and Thatcher’s government did much more than change the landscape.
Miners’ wives were galvanised into action, taking part in rallies, taking up their places on the picket lines, and setting up the soup kitchens which kept their families fed.
“Strong, capable women”
Chicken Soup, written by Ray Castleton and Kieran Knowles, focuses on four such women and follows them from the infamous Battle of Orgreave to Brexit, via the Queen’s 2002 golden jubilee.
These are the kind of strong, capable women for whom the strike was a turning point, bringing with it a profound change in their own identity.
And yet, when they leave the soup kitchen after the strike, little could they know that they would be back 32 years later running it as a food bank, deprivation never far from the door in communities devastated by the loss of the mining industry.
“Unable to move on”
Christine (played with fierce emotion by Samantha Power) is the gobby one, prepared to cut herself off from her miner brother who decides to cross the picket line and return to work.
After the strike she remains bitter and unable to move on, railing against the Establishment and accusing her friends of selling-out..
Peace-maker Josephine (Judy Flynn) takes a more pragmatic view, wanting to make the best of things and getting involved with the council and local MP to effect change
While Jennifer (Simone Saunders), pregnant during the strike and later left by her husband, is the one who proves that, against all odds, social mobility is sometimes possible.
“Powerful and poignant”
She trains as an accountant, opening up new opportunities for herself and her daughter Katie (Remmie Milner). Their mum-and-teenager scenes are very funny, Milner playing the sulky daughter perfectly.
Helen (Jo Hartley) is Christine’s sister-in-law, pleading with her to heal the rift that has divided their families. The scene where she returns in 2016 is one of the most powerful and poignant of the play.
Chicken Soup provides an emotive social commentary on recent history, ending on the day of the EU referendum. A handwritten note on the hatchway, through which the women once served their soup, warns that it is now broken. Maybe that’s a comment on society.
But it’s safe to say that with these women around, it won’t stay broken for long.
Images: Mark Douet