We’re Not Going Back by Boff Whalley

Boff Whalley tells us about the women of the miners’ strike who inspired his latest musical, We’re Not Going Back, as it plays its final show in Leeds this month.

So the year-long anniversary of the 1984/5 miners’ strike is coming to an end, and with it, our run of the musical We’re Not Going Back. The show finishes with shows in London, Sheffield and Leeds – the Sheffield show is (I’m told) sold out, but there are still tickets for the four Leeds performances at the wonderful City Varieties Music Hall.

It’s fitting that the show will play its final show at City Varieties, I think – it’s a place steeped in tradition, and I don’t mean the mocked-up frilly-hats ‘n’ dinner jackets myth of the Good Old Days, either. The City Varieties was a rough ‘n’ tumble place where working men and women went after their long shifts (often still in work clothes) to see the best entertainment of the day.

I got involved in the miners’ strike in 1984, being part of a support group in Armley, Leeds. We were twinned with Frickley Colliery and we’d spend our Saturday mornings rattling plastic buckets outside the supermarket on Town Street. When we visited the pit village we were taken straight down to the miners’ welfare hall, where between comedians, singers and the bingo, we were given a standing ovation for our efforts. The following morning we were up at 4am to join the picket line. How could it not have a lifelong effect on me, and on my writing, to be a small part of that incredible year? A year of poverty and hardship, but also a year of real change, and especially for the women involved in the strike.

We're Not Going Back by Boff Whalley, City Varieties, 19-21 February

We’re Not Going Back by Boff Whalley, City Varieties, 19-21 February

We’re Not Going Back is about those women, the wives and sisters and daughters who set up the support networks, who collected and cooked, who organised and shouted. They have an amazing story, a story too good to ignore. Their year was shot through with humour and laughter, with arguments and song, with discoveries and realisations. It made writing the play – and the songs – easy, it really did. The framework was all there.

The five women who act, sing, and stage We’re Not Going Back are an incredible team. I’ve watched them take the script, and the music, and make them their own. I’ve seen them change the words on the page into something bursting with life and energy (and proper lovely harmonies, too). It’s been a privilege to have been part of it. It’s the one show I’ve written, too, where, despite the onstage laughs and the jokes, I can’t hold back the tears. Yes, I’m a rotten softie. But watching Stacey, Claire, Victoria and Beccy singing their joys and their hurt, compressing that huge year into an evening’s stage show, reminds me how politics is human and frail, reminds me of all the bucket-rattling and that final, defiant march back to the pit gate at the strike’s end.

For those who may have missed Yorkshire’s favourite radical theatre company Red Ladder is  home this Spring, with a total of 18 shows across the region in February and March.

Despite losing 100% of its Arts Council funding last year, the company is busier than ever . We’re Not Going Back’, Boff Whalley’s musical, telling the story of the miners’ strike from the point of view of three sisters, plays at Sheffield Trades and Labour Club tonight to a sold out audience and Leeds’ City Varieties from 19 – 21 February. There are still tickets available so don’t miss out.

On Saturday 7th March, as part of the Headingley Lit Fest, there will be a musical evening with Red Ladder and the cast of We’re Not Going Back. Tickets are £6. Click here for more info.

The following week sees the national tour of NICOBOBINUS coming to Leeds’ Carriageworks Theatre –  an adventurous family musical based on Monty Python Terry Jones’ children’s book of the same name. This is a co-production between Red Ladder and their young actor musician associate company, DumbWise,  and is Red Ladder’s first ever family show.

NICOBOBINUS’ Yorkshire dates are Cast in Doncaster (19 Feb), Square Chapel, Halifax (20 Feb), Carriageworks Theatre, Leeds (27 and 28 Feb), Bradford Playhouse (5 and 6 March) and The Civic, Barnsley (8 and 9 March).

Supporters of Red Ladder have launched the Save Red Ladder campaign and raised over £20, 000. You can join us too. Follow Save Red Ladder on Twitter and read more on the Save Red Ladder website.


Red Ladder Theatre Comapny


Fiona Gell

Fiona is a lifelong reading enthusiast and book lover. Her career started as a bookseller and has never really veered away from the written and spoken word. It was a dream for her to be a founder member of The Leeds Big Bookend and the Northern Short Story Festival. She continues to be its Director.

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