The Pitmen Painters
Live Theatre Newcastle and National Theatre Tour
Wednesday 3rd April 2013
This warm, fascinating play follows the real-life tale of a group of miners from Ashington, Northumberland, who in 1934 used their Workers Educational Association class, not to learn about traditional working class subjects, but to establish an art appreciation group. Led by Master of Painting Robert Lyon from Armstrong College, the insight and originality of the group's own artworks caught the attention of members of the art world across the country.
Lee Hall's play captures the spirit of the group through 5 of its members, led by the inexhaustibly steadfast George Brown (Nicholas Lumley), and their lessons with teacher Robert Lyon (Louis Hilyer). It is hard working youth Oliver Kilbourn (Phillip Correia) who becomes the centre of the story however, as he gut wrenchingly turns down an offer of artistic patronage by a rich benefactor to remain among the mining community and industry he knows, where he feels he belongs, and continue to explore his passion and talent for art as an absorbing hobby.
The various locations as the men visit local patrons, Newcastle exhibitions and London galleries, are all depicted through small changes on a simple set. Hardboard versions of the miners' paintings frame the room throughout, turned away from the audience to begin with and gradually revealed as the characters develop. Using projections above the heads of the actors, images of the original pitmen's work are displayed to bring life and context to the story.
Although each character is energetically and lovingly developed, this is an ensemble piece, and the cast work together with understanding and generosity. Individual characters are given room to shine, while a feeling of camaraderie among the group of painters is built and developed. With humour, pathos and constant sensitivity to the original Ashington group members, this is a heartwarming, moving and extremely entertaining play.