Tinned Goods at Greenwich Theatre - Guest Feature

On Wednesday 30 March, the national touring production of Fiona Whitelaw’s TINNED GOODS calls in at Greenwich Theatre as part of the venue’s season celebrating female theatre makers. Whitelaw explains why it was so important to tell this tale of the miners’ strike from the perspective of the miners’ wives…

As a writer I believe it is important to see ourselves reflected on-stage and screen, to tell stories that represent all communities, cultures and ways of life. Too often female stories and working class stories are under represented, or the females in these stories are there merely as a ‘talk to’; a character that someone confides in, or who makes the central male look better or demonstrates aspects of his character.

When I first started thinking about Tinned Goods, I had just completed a period of research for a commission for historical theatre for an elderly audience. I knew I wanted to write a play which highlighted a national event of huge significance but to explore it from the point of view of the women involved, and once I began watching documentary footage of the strikes and reading background information I was completely gripped by the story and the journey travelled by these women.

Although much of what happens and is said in the play is based on truth - lack of food, utilities cut off, burning household furniture for warmth, being arrested and humiliated, seeing their men-folk charged with offences they did not commit (a matter currently being discussed at a parliamentary justice conference http://otjc.org.uk/), marching, picketing and speaking in public for the first time - this is a work of fiction, so as a writer I have asked ‘What if?’ in exploring the family dynamic within the story. What happens to a marriage when placed under this kind of pressure? What happens when an event divides a community, families and people who believed they were ‘friends for life’?

Most fundamentally though, what has happened to our society when the ability to strike and protect our jobs and conditions of work has been so eroded? Currently the government has plans in the pipeline to erode these rights even further with current anti-union legislation going through parliament.

Tinned Goods is a celebration of the strength of these women, many of whom are still active in campaigns including saving the NHS, supporting fire fighters on strike, helping refugees and asylum seekers. It is a privilege to be touring this story and to be working with a female cast, director and producer. My hope and expectation is that this generation of young women will stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before and bring in 50/50 representation in parliament, on stage and screen and in all areas of our national life.

However, I should end with the words of some of the women affected by the strike, women whose voices are stronger than any fiction.

‘I had always been told I was thick and I was stupid by my husband but I learned I wasn't’ Miner’s wife

"I knew that I had seen something remarkable and it had given me more strength than I knew I had. Things would never be the same again."
Miners wife after the Women’s March against Pit Closures.

(c) Fiona Whitelaw 2016

Tinned Goods, produced by Tea and Tenacity, tours from 11 March – 3 April, appearing at Greenwich Theatre on 30 March
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