A Sheffield actor who starred in The Bill and a city writer who’s just had a hit play at the Crucible have joined forces to tell the story of a mining family and the privatisation of the coal industry.
Ray Ashcroft, who played Det Sgt Geoff Daly in The Bill, is miner George Mason. Set in a Yorkshire mining town, the play follows George, his wife Connie, their son – returning soldier Tom – and Tom’s fiancée Liz from the immediate aftermath of the war to Coronation year, 1953.
Ray appears alongside Kate Wood as Connie, Rotherham actor Danny Mellor as Tom and Doncaster’s Lizzie Frain, playing Liz
The play was written by Ray Castleton and is being performed by his theatre company, The Melting Shop. It’s currently out on a second regional tour, with support from an online Kickstarter funding campaign.
For both men, the play has strong associations with their families.
Ray Castleton looked at the miners’ strike from the point of view of women supporting the dispute in Chicken Soup, which became a hot ticket when it premiered at the Crucible Studio.
He said: “I received a commission in 2016 from the National Coal Mining Museum in Wakefield.
“Nationalisation of the coal industry is a big, boring political subject. Rather than that, I wrote a play about a Yorkshire mining family.
“It is something people connect with because it is about a family. The son comes back from the war and I based it on my father-in-law, who actually came back to the steelworks.
“He came back for unfortunately his best friend was killed and he only joined up because my father-in-law did. His best friend’s parents blamed my father-in-law until the day he died.”
Ray said: “I’ve taken that glimmer of a story and twisted it, so it’s two brothers, and also one doesn’t come back. The older one is the apple of his mother’s eye and only joined up because his brother joined up.”
His mother blames Tom for losing her other son.
Another part of the drama shows the love story between Tom and Liz, who has enjoyed her independence working during the war and doesn’t want to be a traditional housewife.
Ray said Connie is based on his mum, ruling family life from her kitchen. “They’re instrumental in gluing a family together. I remember my mum did, as millions of other women did.”
He also did research with the help of guides at the mining museum, who are all ex-miners, and the father of one, who remembered those times vividly.
Ray Ashcroft said it was a familiar world to him as he and his brother spent a lot of their childhood in Kiveton Park and Wales with his grandparents.
Ray described his miner grandad: “He was a tub-thumping, tea from a saucer-sipping socialist and I remember that when the TV was relatively new, whenever (Tory prime ministers) Harold Macmillan and, slightly later Alec Douglas-Home, were on, he’d be incandescent with rage and bang the table and spill his gravy off his knife edge.
“That made an impression me and definitely shaped my politics in later life. This was the first opportunity for me to play somebody that I feel I know inside out because George Mason is kind of a carbon copy of my grandad in his stubbornness and his socialism.”
The tour calls into lots of local community venues, plus Cast, Doncaster on June 1 and 2 and the Crucible, Sheffield on June 14 . For details, go to www.themeltingshop.co.uk