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Review: The Pitmen Painters – Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

Published on: 8 May, 2013
Updated on: 8 May, 2013
The Pitmen Painters

Louis Hilyer as Robert Lyon contemplates his art

by Amy Yorston

All too often posters proclaim ‘inspired by a true story’ with very little basis to make the claim. The Pitmen Painters however, is genuinely based upon a true story; the work of the Ashington Group now hangs in its own gallery to be enjoyed by all.

Written by Lee hall (also known for Billy Elliott) The Pitmen Painters charts the development of an art appreciation class as part of the Workers Educational Association in Ashington, Northumberland.  Stretching from 1934 to 1947, the audience witness their very first foray into the medium and then through to exhibitions and fame.

The emphasis is however, not solely upon the art and you do not need to be knowledgeable about the subject to enjoy the show. The story is one of relationships and self-discovery. The word ensemble is perhaps used too often concerning current theatrical trends but this truly is an ensemble production as the dramatic effect relies solely on the interaction between the miners and their teacher.

The classroom scenes are a joy to watch

The classroom scenes are a joy to watch

With perfect pace and spot on comic timing, the classroom scenes are a joy to watch and the character development whilst being a slow burn is expertly handled as the men become more proficient in the language of art and self-expression.

Class distinction also plays a huge role throughout the piece and the political nature of the play cannot be ignored. Denied a proper education the miners feel that they are entitled to learn and are hungry to do so, they become frustrated that their art  is appreciated because they are working class rather than purely for its quality but also retain their pride for their profession and backgrounds.

The Pitmen Painters

The Pitmen Painters – relies solely on the interaction between the miners and their teacher.

It is suggested that part of the beauty of their work is that they are outsiders to the art world: whilst having hugely physically demanding day jobs the men are free in as much as they can paint what they want. They discover that ‘proper’ artists are tied to collectors and fashion whereas their art is timeless as it is painted for pleasure. This raises many questions regarding the nature of commercial art and its accessibility, alongside the broader political points about the plight of the working man.

Surprisingly funny, moving, thought provoking and hugely relevant The Pitmen Painters is a show that deserves its success. It is also a show that Guildford audiences should make a point of seeing.

Pitmen painters is showing at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre until Saturday May 12th.

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test One Response to Review: The Pitmen Painters – Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

  1. Roy Stephenson Reply

    May 8, 2013 at 10:30 pm

    A superb play written by the lovely Hall, who was inspired to do so by the book written by Bill Feaver, which is available at Woodhorn in Ashington, Northumberland.

    http://www.experiencewoodhorn.com/shop.910022-ash001-pitmen-painters.-the-ashington-group-1934-1984-by-william-feaver

    Certainly if you get an opportunity to see the paintings you must, and ask for access to the Kilbourn collection as well. Woodhorn is free and you only pay to park.

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