Ashleigh Sinclair, my co-writer, and I saw The Pitmen Painters at the Journal Tyne Theatre in Newcastle in 2012. We really enjoyed the political aspect, but we left very frustrated with the female representation in the play. The wives were mentioned two or three times throughout and we kept asking ourselves: where are they? what are they up to? Coal Girls is our response to that.
The more I researched it, the less information I found in history about working class North East women. Even with the Ashington Group, all that I could find out were the wives’ names and the fact that they washed the house and clothes continuously as their husbands and sons went out to the pit and returned on separate shifts. As a North East working class woman, I found this increasingly frustrating, and so I decided to tell their story.
As we could find so little out about them, the characters are completely fictional. But the women would have had a weekly washday, gone along to the miners’ picnic, and competed to be Coal Queen at some point in their lives.
Initially, I spent a lot of time in the Woodhorn Museum, researching to make the play as historically accurate as possible. For example, in the 1930s, families in a pit village wouldn’t have had the latest fashions or accessories.
Ashleigh and I wrote the first 20 minutes of the play as a duo, and then during a research and development week at Hartlepool Town Hall Theatre, through a scheme called NEAD (North East Artist Development Network), we collaborated with the whole cast, workshopping different scenarios and taking bits of dialogue and ideas from improvisation sessions.
Go for it! “Shy bairns get ‘nowt”, as they say.
It’s been a difficult transition as I have self-produced this, as well as writing and acting in it, so the main difference is being self-disciplined and learning to rely on my own skills and strengths. I’ve learnt a lot about the industry and about myself and I would like to thank the Oldham Coliseum Theatre and Chris Lawson, the Coliseum’s Associate Director, for this wonderful opportunity.
Coal Girls runs from Thursday 4 March – Saturday 6 March in the Oldham Coliseum Theatre Studio