THE PITMEN PAINTERS: Lee Hall.
Theatre Royal: Tkts 0115 989 5555 www.royalcentre-nottingham.co.uk.
Runs: 2h 45m: one interval: till 18th June.
Performance times: 7.45pm, (Matinees 2.00pm Weds and 2.30pm Sat).
Review: Alan Geary: 13th June 2011.
Original, intelligent and satisfying.
What’s all this? A play about coal miners that doesn’t grab a cheap opportunity for overt or covert anti-Thatcher cliché mongering. The Pitmen Painters is more original and intelligent than that, which is one of the reasons it satisfies. It’s also funny, moving and well acted.
Instead of using his play for clumsy, predictably one-sided didacticism Lee Hall treats us to a fascinating polemical piece. His key characters are all Northumbrians, working-class men, mostly miners, and they all paint pictures. From the outside they look like a cohesive “group” or “school”; in fact they spend all their time together in disagreement.
Thus the play is able to examine the nature of exploitation – who’s exploiting whom? – the meaning of that slippery word “art”, social mobility, the nature of the authentic life well lived, and so on.
The characters, loosely based on real-life people, are all beautifully realised. For instance, there’s George Brown (Deka Walmesley), an officious type who talks fluent Unionese, pragmatist Jimmy Floyd (David Whitaker), and well-read Communist Harry Wilson (Michael Hodgson) with his speech near the end.
Leading light is Oliver Kilbourn. Trevor Fox plays him with conviction, when he’s virtually silent and when he’s having a row with the wealthy Helen Sutherland. The latter (splendidly played by Joy Brook) wants to patronise Kilbourn in both senses: as in “condescending” and as in stumping up regular cash so he can be a full-time artist. She also fancies him.
David Leonard is effective as the tutor Robert Lyon, though at the start he’s inappropriately comic camp. Brian Lonsdale does two roles, the better of which is a young Ben Nicholson with a speech impediment.
There are some good laughs in this play. And since the pictures, whenever they’re being discussed, are all projected onto a screen, we get to see some wonderful paintings.
It’s a very satisfying evening’s theatre.
George Brown: Deka Walmsley.
Oliver Kilbourn: Trevor Fox.
Jimmy Floyd: David Whitaker.
Young Lad/Ben Nicholson: Brian Lonsdale
Harry Wilson: Michael Hodgson.
Robert Lyon: David Leonard.
Susan Parkes: Viktoria Kay.
Helen Sutherland: Joy Brook.
Director: Max Roberts.
Set/Costume Designer: Gary McCann.
Lighting Designer: Douglas Kuhrt.
Sound Designer: Martin Hodgson.