On Behalf of the People – Review – The Square Chapel, Halifax
By @Steve Crabtree, June 2018
The newly refurbished Square Chapel in Halifax is a performing gem for Halifax, playing host to a number of productions that really captures the essence of performing art.
On Behalf of the People began as a commission by the National Coal Mining Museum, and now The Melting Shop are touring the play, and the Copper Auditorium is its perfect setting.
“Polaroid of 1940’s living conditions”
Set in a Yorkshire mining town, On Behalf of the People follows George Mason, his wife Connie, their returning soldier son Tom and Tom’s fiancée, Liz. In a tale of working class, immediate post-war political change, we find ourselves in the Mason’s front room for much of the play – the simplistic set up a Polaroid of 1940’s living conditions for a family whose bread is earned from the pits.
Danny Mellor plays Tom. Mellor delivers a commanding performance as the common sense, authoritative and wholesome son and fiancée. He returns home after five years to his parents and has to determine if the love of his family is strong enough to make him stay for good.
But with true Yorkshire grit, tension between him and father George, opens up a family heartache. And that gets shared in three separate ways. Ray Ashcroft plays George, the Union man with faltering health to perfection. A dyed in the wool Yorkshireman, who has plenty to say, and underneath has plenty of Yorkshire heart.
“Cast of four connect like a real family”
The very intimate setting meant the 70 strong audience were sat around the performance space. So close that not only do you feel very much a participant, you had to be careful not to trip one of the cast as they ambled past you.
And this closeness of setting is integral to the play’s impact, and reflective of the family feeling of the Mason’s. A few chairs and a table are the general set up. Cast members swiftly change things around from scene to scene. They join us in the audience when they’re not part of the scene. George Mason often sleeping in his comfy chair alongside us.
It’s a very powerful story, and a well-polished play too. The cast of four connect like a real family, acting out a tale that entertains, but also grips. Connie (Kate Wood) is devoted to the men who remain in her life. And although strong in head and heart, she is brittle at times. She deals with a husband and son who are devoted to family, but also two men nearly as devoted to their career. For better or worse.
I must say, I can’t think of a performance I’ve been to where I’ve felt this absorbed.
It’s a must-see show for all Yorkshire theatre fans. You’re virtually a part of the play at times. And that makes it all the more engrossing than if you were watching it simply pan out on a stage.
Images: Tom Jackson