THE PITMEN PAINTERS
by Lee Hall inspired by a book by William Feaver.
Oxford Playhouse Beaumont Street OX1 2LW 29 July-2 August.
Mon-Thu; Sat 7.30pm Fri 8pm Mat Thu & Sat 7.30pm.
Audio-described 3 Aug 2.30pm (+ Touch Tour 1pm).
Post-show Talk Wed.
Captioned 1 Aug 2.30pm.
TICKETS: 01865 305305.
then Richmond Theatre Little Green TW9 1QJ 5-10 Aug 2013.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Wed & Sat 2.30pm.
TICKETS: 0844 871 7651.
Runs 2hr 40min One interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 30 July.
Comic and moving; Live Theatre once again shows the extraordinary in the apparently mundane.
Art critic William Feaver rediscovered the Ashington Group, a number of Tyneside men who found themselves in a Workers Education Association class during 1934, intending to study art history. Finding it remote, they turned, at the suggestion of their high-handed and increasingly desperate tutor Robert Lyon, to painting.
That’s how the story comes across in Lee Hall’s play, which parades elements of pomposity and artistic naivety in the emergence of people united by a background in mining (pitmen, plus one invalided into dentistry, another unable to find a job), rather than a shared aesthetic.
There’s plentiful humour in Harry’s doctrinaire socialism, Jimmy’s simple assertions, or George’s adherence to the book of rules. Even when the group’s long-established and nationalisation comes along, George can be seen nailing new rules on a bare wall opposite the collected paintings.
But Hall never undermines his characters’ dignity. Harry’s too frank to be stupid, and he comes out with some wise statements. Even the outsiders to this world are given value, be it Lyon or heiress Helen Sutherland.
But they are outsiders. This is the story of men reassessing the world around them, as they re-create that world in their pictures. Criticising each others’ first attempts their comments ring-out against the art-world guff with which any member of the cognoscenti tends to cloud things over.
Iit’s the pitmen themselves who argue, at their first public exhibition, against Lyon’s insistence anyone can paint, and who point out his class condescension. None is under more pressure than Oliver Milbourn, the talent encouraged to give up the shift job and go-it-alone.
Philip Correia is more the hero type on stage than the role’s originator, yet the intensity with which he watches and listens when art’s involved expresses his aptitude. Louis Hilyer’s Lyon begins very briskly but develops a blend of involvement with the group and self-interest.
And Hall never ignores the rich seam of political context to these men’s lives during days of hope which, as a final few slides make clear, are now part of history. Max Roberts’ production is a continuing triumph for Newcastle-upon-Tyne’s Live Theatre.
George Brown: Nicholas Lumley.
Oliver Kilbourn: Philip Correia.
Jimmy Floyd: Donald McBride.
Young Lad/Ben Nicholson: Riley Jones.
Harry Wilson: Joe Caffrey.
Robert Lyon: Louis Hilyer.
Susan Parks: Catherine Dryden.
Helen Sutherland: Suzy Cooper.
Director: Max Roberts.
Designer/Costume: Gary McCann.
Lighting: Douglas Kuhrt.
Sound: Martin Hodgson.