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A CurtainUp London London Review
The Pitmen Painters


We donít go to art to find out about the world, we go to art to find out about ourselves — Richard Lyon
The Pitmen Painters
Current Cast (Photo: Keith Pattison)
Lee Hall poses many questions about the functionality of art in a funny and moving play that uses a group of pitmen at an art appreciation class as its backdrop. Celebrated at both the National Theatre and on Broadway, Hallís play provides an evening that will intrigue many art lovers and will perhaps change the way they look, perceive and appreciate art indefinitely.

The play is almost biographical in its account of a real life group of pitmen who have all signed up with a Workers Educational Association class on ĎArt Appreciationí. The story then follows the five members and their tutor on a journey of self-discovery and artistic realisation. Hallís pitmen are incredibly well rounded characters each with a deep and captivating story to tell. Right from the first scene the characters are very recognisable and Hallís writing is clever in its semi-nostalgic feel returning the audience to a rather gloomy world of recession allegories and pre-war fear.

However, among the rather drab backdrop is a charming and at times hilarious tale of a group of talented ordinary men who strive to find the meanings in their own art as well as endeavouring to break down the snobbish boundaries of a culture that was becoming exclusively bourgeois. Indeed much of the comedy comes from the way we all can see very different things and meanings in paintings. The pitmen and their tutor, a master of art, and perhaps the bridge that crosses the divide, ask why do people do art? Is it for individuality? Do the bonds and pride of the working classes limit their creativity and individuality? Can one be an artist and working class without the education and the language? Not that these questions are necessarily answered but Hallís play plants the many seeds of a topic that is still and will be very relevant for years to come.

An excellent cast embedded with superb comic timing and believability boldly tells this fascinating story of the ĎAshington Groupí. Trevor Fox as Oliver Kilbourn and David Whitaker as Jimmy are both sincere and genuine in their performances with Ian Kelly doing well not to overstep the stereotype of the middle class professor of art, Robert Lyon. Max Robertsí direction is exquisite and sharp. The production is seamless and flows throughout with quick snap scene changes.

The production does perhaps run on a little long at two and a half hours. Although the subject matter is rather endless in its fodder for debate and the charming story of the Ashington Group is engrossing, it felt that the messages and questions Hall promotes seem to become a little repetitive. Nevertheless all art makes you think and this certainly does.

For Elyse Sommerís review of The Pitmen Painters in New York go here.

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The Pitmen Painters
Written by Lee Hall
Directed by Max Roberts

Starring: Joe Caffrey, Trevor Fox, David Whitaker, Brian Lonsdale, Michael Hodgson, Ian Kelly
With: Victoria Kay, Joe Brook. (Photo: Joan Marcus)
Design: Gary McCann
Lighting: Douglas Kuhrt
Sound: Martin Hodgson
Running time: Two and a half hours including a 15 minute interval
Box Office: 020 7452 3000
Booking to 21st January 2012
Reviewed by Tim Newns based on 12th October 2011 production at the Duchess Theatre, Catherine Street, London, WC2B 5LA (Tube: Covent Garden)
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©Copyright 2011, Elyse Sommer.
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