Jermin Productions present Children of Mine
Ordinary people living ordinary lives hauntingly echoes as the cast multi-role play their way through the 24 hours when tragedy struck in October 1966. A powerful and compelling play based on an historic Welsh mining disaster. This evocative and abstract piece plummets its audience into the thick black slurry of devastation, crushing its characters’ physical and mental strengths which forces extreme despair onto the grieving community. Nostalgic and cogent, this momentous piece of theatre aims to stir emotions whilst demonstrating why almost 50 years on generations of people in Aberfan will never forget the children of mine.
Exceptionally polished performances -
The List (3 stars)
My admiration for these actors is enormous -
£8 / £6 (concessions)
at 09:01 on 5th Aug 2013
At the end of 'Children of Mine,' with echoes of keening lamentations still ringing in the rafters and the impression of nine cherubic sixteen-year-old faces covered in coal dust muddied with fifty minutes worth of tears no doubt still fresh in her mind, the woman in front of me swiveled in her seat and asked if I was reviewing the play. I said I was. 'I thought those children were phenomenal,' she said. 'Just phenomenal.' She scrutinised my reaction. 'But you don't agree.' Pause. 'Interesting.' I knew what she meant by 'interesting'. By 'interesting' she meant 'This callous and revolting husk of a human is going to poke holes in a drama about the death of 116 children because he thinks he's clever.'
Well, not entirely, I do have some pretty positive things to say. There was nothing wrong with the execution of this play, and this was not an easy play to execute. The young cast had to deliver many of its lines in unison, to chant, to inhabit multiple characters of vastly different ages, to dance, to sing, and most of all to grieve and rage. To grieve and rage a lot. How difficult it must be for a teenager to portray the anguish of a single mother at the sudden death of her wayward son, to whom her last words were spoken in anger. My admiration for these actors is enormous.
There are serious problems here, and they have to do with structure and the script. Thereﾒs a lot of narration in 'Children of Mine,' much of it delivered by the cast in eerie chorus, and much of it, sadly, is banal. In a play in which a primary school is cataclysmically buried in an avalanche of coal slurry it's not really necessary to say: 'No one was laughing in Aberfan that day. No one.' Similarly: 'It seemed to go on for hours.' Surely a tragedy of this magnitude deserves better artistic justice than cliches? One nicely crafted scene had the actors, as children, evoking the ordinariness of the fateful day through a repetitive, rhythmic intoning of their mundane preparations for school: brush teeth, eat breakfast, kiss Ma, bag over the shoulder, & c. But playwright Mark Jermin didn't trust his audience: 'It was just an ordinary day in an ordinary village,' he made his poor narrator, Captain Obvious, declare.
Banality extended to characterisation, which was in every case stock, the drunken coal miner and his suffering woman, the domineering mother and her craven husband, the enraptured newlyweds. Never did any of Jermin's characters live as individuals; they existed solely as vehicles for the expression of the same grief and rage that suffused every moment of this drama. The sameness is the fundamental problem: there is no sense that that this catastrophe has affected a variety of individual experiences. The woman sitting in front of me wasn't wrong (the actors were phenomenal) but in their performances, through no fault of their own, we lose the truth that everyone suffers differently.
at 09:04 on 5th Aug 2013
The question of how to tackle the tragedy of October 21st 1966 is difficult in any context. Creating a piece of theatre about what happened in Aberfan is a particularly hard task. As you enter the theatre, the sparse staging already helps set up a sombre mood. There are seven metal ladders, which, we are later told, represent the seven piles of colliery debris that fell on the school. This is an overwhelmingly sad show.
The opening of the play was very information heavy. The ensemble presented a kind of Wikipedia article about the Aberfan disaster in unison, which gave details about the event so those who donﾒt remember it, or much about it, were brought up to date. This was interspersed with sudden bursts of cheerful song to illustrate the clich￩d version of Wales that everyone imagines ﾖ ﾓwe talk to our sheepﾔ. This choice of contrasting elements ﾖ the cold, hard facts versus the idealised Wales ﾖ had a hugely unsettling effect. However, I did feel that this technique was somewhat overused and its power soon diminished. From time to time it seemed like the play was trying to tick all of the ﾑtheatre techniqueﾒ boxes in order to give itself some structure in which to narrate the disaster.
After the very factual beginning there was much effort to ﾑhumaniseﾒ the disaster by showing the families of those involved before and after. Before the collapse, in a similar vein to the Porter in Macbeth or the Fool in King Lear, there was an attempt at humour (a trick used to make the worst parts seem even more tragic). Introducing the characters of the town revealed some potentially funny material, particularly the heightened physicality of a buxom woman and her hen-pecked husband who seemed a little bit like Roald Dahl characters. However, the subject matter was so bleak from the offset that it seemed painful to even try.
Much time was taken to depict the grief of the parents whose children had died. Especially considering that the cast were sixteen year olds, the portrayal of maternal and paternal suffering seemed surprisingly truthful. Abbey Roderick gave a particularly powerful performance as a mother of one of the dead children, a child who had been confidently sticking his middle finger up at the audience earlier in the show.
This is a play that, I think, is self-consciously aware of itﾒs own failure to articulate. The writer, Mark Jermin, tries to convey the struggle to put voice to sorrow but, as Tennyson wrote ﾓwords, like Nature, half reveal / And half conceal the Soul withinﾔ. The actual collapse and death is powerfully presented not in language, but as a dance.
It's a shame, then, that their passion wasn't harnessed in a more imaginative, thoughtful way. Weﾒre told rather than shown the dayﾒs events, too often by the whole group in a relentlessly aggressive unison ﾖ so much so that the show feels rather like a staged essay.
The ever-increasing grief is mostly articulated at a screamingly high level of intensity, and there's plenty of finger-pointing at the responsible parties. Although there are brief moments of poetry and reflection - the physical interludes, though a bit opaque, come as welcome breaks from the surrounding anguish - they're too few to give the show the light and shade it needs. It's a sadly missed opportunity, given the commitment and striking abilities of the performers. "”