The Pitmen Painters
Paul Johnson | 04 Oct 2011 01:34am
The Pitmen Painters is Lee Hall’s second work set against a backdrop of the coal-mining towns of the North. It’s possible you may have heard of the other one, all about a young boy with a passion for dance, called Billy Elliot.
Add to this Hall’s acclaimed TV adaptation of Nigel Slater’s autobiography, Toast, and the eagerly awaited January 2012 release of Steven Speilberg’s new film War Horse (co-written screenplay with Richard Curtis) and it’s hardly surprising that the this Geordie playwright’s newest piece has played to sell-out audiences first at the Live Theatre, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, the NT and now at venues around the UK as part of a national tour.
Inspired by art critic William Feaver’s book, Hall’s adaptation follows the true story of how a six-strong group of mostly miners from the Ashington in Northumberland start an art appreciation class, only to go on and become celebrated components of the British art world of the 30s-40s. Similar to the Billy Elliot ‘working-class boy made good’ scenario audiences do, by tradition, love to see the underdog achieving against the odds. However, the power of The Pitmen Painters goes way beyond that. Although the level of Northern humour is delightfully unfailing in its abundance the play doesn’t just apply the ability to discuss the basics of Art. The audience is skilfully asked and reminded to reassess any preconceived ideas of the northern working-class intellect through scene after scene of passionate and fierce debate from the group of labourers. Despite this, in an era when the class system was so strongly prevalent it was still quite heartbreaking to see the most talented of the group, Oliver Kilbourn, unable to turn his back on the only life he had ever known when given the opportunity to leave the pit under the offer of a weekly stipend by wealthy art collector Helen Sutherland. The thick Geordie accents of the pitmen clashed beautifully with art teacher Robert Lyon’s clipped and well-educated speech. It was Lyon’s inspired idea to teach Art to the men not by lectures – which were not achieving the desired effect – but instead by letting them paint and discover their own meaning and the purpose of Art for themselves. With much of the original cast onstage for the UK tour the company delivered wonderfully with Trevor Fox’s portrayal of Oliver Kilbourn the stand-out performance of the night. Kilbourn’s sensitive vulnerability was delivered to perfection by Fox alongside the miner’s constant thirst for something more, the ambition to learn and grow. Gary McCann’s atmospheric set-design under Max Roberts’ direction replicated the dark and extremely noisy world where these men worked extremely authentically with the scene changes being deliberately deafening. The three video-screen backdrops were also a welcomed touch availing the audience a closer look at the various works of art as they were displayed and discussed.
- : admin
- : 19/09/2011