‘In Time o’ Strife’ play with new lease of life

In Time O' Strife - a play based on Joe Corrie's 1926 play - at Pathhead Halls, Commercial Street, Kirkcaldy
In Time O' Strife - a play based on Joe Corrie's 1926 play - at Pathhead Halls, Commercial Street, Kirkcaldy
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He was a miner from Cardenden, but Joe Corrie wrote some powerful poetry and plays.

Despite international success with his play ‘In Time o’ Strife’, Corrie’s work was shunned by the Scottish theatre elite of his day, although at one time he was described by T.S Eliot as “the greatest Scottish poet since Burns”

Now, some 87 years since it was written during the General Strike of 1926, the play has been given a new lease of life in a powerful reimagining of the rarely performed classic by the National Theatre of Scotland.

And this week it has made its debut in Fife, a Kingdom steeped in mining history.

The production is currently running until October 12 at the Pathhead Halls in Kirkcaldy’s Commercial Street.

Taking time out from rehearsals yesterday (Wednesday) The Press spoke to some of those bringing this play to the stage.

Graham McLaren, director of the production and the director of the successful National Theatre of Scotland’s ‘A Christmas Carol’ at the Old Kirk last December, said he’s delighted to be able to bring the play to Fife.

He told the Press: “Doing A Christmas Carol here was a real revelation.

“There was something about the audiences that were unpretentious and it was good to be here.

“The audiences are always great in Fife, I know it sounds like a tribe thing, but with ‘In Time o Strife’ we could have opened it any where but we chose to come to the heartland really.

“Where for so many people the idea of the miners’ strike is harrowing as it is when you look at footage but for people here, they lived through it, and fought the fight and it’s a pressure but also a privilege to be playing the show here.

“Last night there were 40 miners in.

“Doing something like this, there’s a responsibility to do it justice and I think their presence here has given us that.

“For all the people that have come to watch rehearsals and previews who work in theatre all their ideas and notes if you like, just vanish when you hear the one sentence from the miners.”

Corrie’s play exposes the lives of a Fife mining family staring hunger and defeat in the face during the General Strike of 1926.

The new production combines the original script with fragments of Corrie’s other plays, poems and songs in a loud, physical production with a live four piece band.

The play has seldom been performed professionally with the last production the 7:84’s version at the Citizens Theatre in Glasgow in 1982.

Graham continued: “No one does Joe Corrie.

“It’s nothing short of criminal.

“He was not encouraged and in particular this play was rejected by the Scottish theatre establishment of the time and as a result it never really flourished, despite playing to sell out theatres internationally.

“I genuinely believe that had he been encrouaged and developed dramatographically we would have a book of work that would rival the likes of O’Casey.

“Scotland finds it really difficult to appreciate it’s own artists, that was true of Joe Corrie and Ena Lamont Stewart.

“I think it’s a disgrace that we didn’t encourage him and I’m proud to be part of a National Theatre of Scotland that can shine a light on these near forgotten artists and also go some way to ensure such a miscarriage of justice doesn’t happen again.”

Kinglassie miner Frank Drennan was one of the local miners the cast met as they were putting the piece together.

The 75-year-old said: “I’d heard of Joe Corrie but never seen any of his work and I was pleasantly surprised last night just how good it was.

“They [the cast] came to see us a few weeks ago and quite a few ex miners there and we gave them some of our experiences in the strike in 1984/85.

“You can just imagine that is exactly how it would be.

“I’m not going to say we had exactly the same as they had it a lot harder, we had more support available.”

Frank added that he thinks it is important to use the production to educate people on what life was like back then: “It’s part of what the mining industry was at that particular time, the number of strikes we have had over the years.

“It was a hard life, but a good life.”

In Time o’ Strife runs at Pathhead Halls until October 12. Tickets available from www.onfife.com