We’re Still Here

A Production by National Theatre Wales and Common Wealth

The future of Port Talbot steelworks, the last big steel making plant in Wales is hanging by a hair.  A year ago owners Tata Steel  threatened to close the plant, throw six thousand workers out of work and destroy the only large employer in Port Talbot. Their main complaint was the size of the retired workers pension fund. Under the threat of closure, the steel workers (but not the pensioners)  were forced to vote for one of two options, either of which meant a cut in pensions. This play dramatises the effect of this threat on the workers

It is like no other play. For a start, there is no theatre with comfortable seats facing a stage. The action takes place in a huge, aircraft hanger sized shed, part of the old steelworks, lit only by spotlights. The audience is ushered in, and stands around or moves while the action takes place around and among them. Parts are played by professionals and also by actual steelworkers themselves

Most of the action consists of monologues. An old ex-worker describes the first few days of unemployment – first the feeling of freedom to stay in bed in the morning, soon the gaping hole in his life.  A group of workers pushing a machine through the crowd talk about the comradeship of working together. A young ex-worker talks about trips to the job centre and being told to look for opportunities in ‘retail’.  A sort of Greek chorus speaks of the grass where the huge Ebbw Vale works once stood and runs through the battles of Welsh workers, from the Merthyr Rising to the Miners’ Strike

Finally, the audience is invited to sit around in a circular discussion mimicking a Trade Union branch meeting.  One worker finds it too much for him and dashes out.  Another berates the union for not taking a harder line. A union official describes how hard he had fought management, even with trips to speak to the owners in Mumbai and wrecking his marriage. The performance ends with the feeling “Well, what’s to be done?” While “We’re still here” – the anthem of Welsh nationalism – sounds more like a cry for help than one of defiance

The whole experience (it can’t really be described as a play in the normal way) gave a  powerful picture of the feeling s of steelworkers which obviously hit home to the audience, a mixture of local people – including present and former steelworkers – and regular theatregoers.  Sadly there was no talk of the wider picture of the economy and of the only solution – the nationalisation of steel making under those workers’ control

Geoff Jones

Swansea Socialist Party

[Common Wealth is a company that makes site-specific events. Their work is political and contemporary and addresses the concerns of our times]