PC Geoff Marsh was a police officer in South Yorkshire - but before that he’d been a miner since he left school, participating in the strikes and industrial unrest of the 1970s. As the miners’ strike of 1984 escalates, he found himself on the other side to his former colleagues, culminating in his presence at the infamous battle of Orgreave.
Now retired, Geoff is at a community centre to give a talk about his career in policing. Arriving in uniform, he discusses what that uniform means to different people: perhaps fear if you’re up to no good, but reassurance for others, even a life-saver. It’s an important motif about why the police exist, as he takes us back to his early life and his route into the force.
Without many options after school, he heads down the pit - after all, it’s a job for life. But his father, made ill by his own time in the mines, is furious… and warns him that the Tories will eventually take their revenge for the strikes of the 70s. His policeman uncle, pointing out all the ailing old miners at the pub, persuades him to join the force.
His uncle is a local bobby, who lives in the community he works in, runs activities for the local youth, and is a much respected figure. It seems the perfect opportunity for Geoff - now with a family - to get out of the pit and stay in the community. But the 1984 miners’ strike is around the corner, and everything changes: as officers from around the country are bussed in to police the strike, the mutual respect between the mining community and local police is placed under immense stress.
Ray Castleton, both writer and performer, is pitch-perfect. He is every inch the retired policeman, affable yet authoritative - but moving through the events of 1984 he evokes confusion and disbelief at the way policing changes, and officers from outside the community taunt and confront the miners. He moves effortlessly through the gears as his anger surfaces, reflecting on how events take their toll on his community, and his deep and abiding sadness at how he and his family are affected as they become perceived as being on the wrong side.
The crucial event, the battle of Orgreave, is a masterclass. We leave feeling like we’ve had an informative lesson on the lie of the land and how events unfolded - except that it didn’t feel like a lecture at all. Simple props - a table and a high stool - are used to great effect as Geoff takes us through the chaos of the confrontation, alluding to how the police approached that day differently to usual, leading to ongoing calls for an inquiry.
Ray Castleton wrote last year’s Buxton Fringe award winning play On Behalf of the People, and this is another gem. The writing is superb: nothing is wasted, every line matters, and though the research must have been intensive it is worn lightly in service of the story. And it’s a fantastic performance to boot. Castleton is utterly convincing as the miner turned policeman, whose life was forever changed by the events of 1984.