THE PITMEN PAINTERS: Lee Hall
Runs: 2h 30m, one interval
Malvern Theatre till Sat 6 August
Touring till 24.09.11
Review: Rod Dungate 01 08 11, Malvern Theatre
Simple on the surface, complex beneath, a satisfying mix.
What a clever work Lee Hall’s THE PITMEN PAINTERS is. It’s the story of a group of miners (mostly miners) in Ashington in the 30s and 40s; they are part of the local WEA (Workers Educational Association); they embark on a series of classes about art appreciation but end up, as a group, painting striking and moving paintings about their lives. Hall’s skill is to combine serious social (and socialist) comment and instruction about the vigorous and complex relationship between life and art within a play that constantly teeters along the edge of acceptable sentimentality.
The result (as in Billy Elliott where the subject was ballet) is a win, win, and win experience for us in the audience.
There is no doubt that these men’s lives were enriched by their experience but there is a dramatic irony running throughout Hall’s play – the men are tantalised with the offer of escape from their tough existence but never actually achieve it. They either have it snatched away – often because class raises its ugly head, or because they are imprisoned by their own class nature. ‘I’m a pitman,’ Oliver, one of the miners, constantly reminds us.
THE PITMEN’s simple narrative structure belies the complexities lying beneath the surface.
A strong acting company clamber across the hills and valleys with energetic commitment and release a great deal of warm humour. Trevor Fox is terrific as Oliver Kilbourn, the most talented of this talented group, locked away from his own emotional power. Brian Lonsdale creates a sparky, much put upon, Lad (and turns in a nice double as artist Ben Nicholson. David Leonard offers a charmingly comedic Robert Lyon, cleverly walking a path always half a step away from stereotype.
And the star of the show? – The WEA.
George Brown: Deka Walmsley
Oliver Kilbourn: Trevor Fox
Jimmy Floyd: David Whitaker
Young Lad: Brian Lonsdale
Harry Wilson: Michael Hodgson
Robert Lyons: David Leonard
Susan Parks: Victoria Kay
Helen Sutherland: Joy Brook
Ben Nicholson: Brian Lonsdale
Director: Max Roberts
Set and Costume Designer: Gary McCann
Lighting Designer: Douglas Kuhrt
Sound Designer: Martin Hodgson
Assistant Director: Mark Maughan