Writer: Lee Hall
Book: William Feaver
Director: Kevin Shaw
Reviewer: Ruth Gerrard
The Coliseum welcomes back Lee Hall and his adaptation of The Pitmen Painters. It tells the story of a group comprised largely of miners in Ashington in North East who are part of the Workers Educational Association. In their quest to better themselves and have interests outside of work, they engage Mr Robert Lyon (Cliff Burnett) to tutor them on art appreciation.
The men consider themselves well-versed in adult education, having studied evolution and biology among other things previously, However, it soon becomes apparent that art appreciation is not about facts, and the only way the group will get to grips with the art world and experience how art can be interpreted is to actually do some. The group switches its focus to creating art and analysing each other’s work. Beginning with lino cuts which suit the manual skills of the men, they move on to painting and new talents are soon revealed. Mr Lyons recognised the uniqueness of the group and opens them up to the art world including a benefactor in Ms Sutherland (Helen Kay) who supports the group and seeks to improve them.
The men believe they are really doing something they no one else was and showing life in a mining village from the centre of the action; not as a casual observer from outside. Their political ideals and working class struggles are endemic to their work and form the backbone of their creativity but also hold them back from embracing true expressionism.
There no weak links in the castand each member brings something special to the stage. Simeon Truby as Oliver has some of the most impassioned dialogue of the piece and delivers it with authenticity and sincerity. He captures the conflicted nature of Oliver well without over exaggeration. Burnett as Lyon is commanding yet humble and his belief in the abilities of the group is well communicated. His interaction with Truby is delightful and the respectful relationship between the two comes across well. Jim Barclay as George is the loveable leader of the group who it is difficult not to feel a soft spot for. His acerbic tone and harsh exterior
Jim Barclay as George is the loveable leader of the group who it is difficult not to feel a soft spot for. His acerbic tone and harsh exterior makehim a good leader and his one-liners are highly amusing. Micky Cochrane as Jimmy is genuinely very amusing with a real passion for his painting; even if his subject matter is limited. Luke Morris as the young lad captures the passions of youth well and adds a good dynamic to the group. Maeve O’Sullivan as Susan adds some welcome humour to the piece. James Quinn as Harry is the impassioned Socialist; affected by his experiences in World War One but dedicated to the idea of the strength of the working classes.
Hall’s work here is strong, with the story being told well without being over romanticised or over simplified, but this strength is also a weakness. Act One is lengthy and begins to feel a little drawn. The power of the group and the collective movement is a strong theme but is perhaps over-egged and reinforced a little too often which adds to the length of the piece. It is quite easy for the audience to bond with the characters and to feel the emotion of the story without the central themes being re-enforced so much.
Kevin Shaw’s direction is strong but allows enough flexibility among the cast for the real feeling of a collective to come through. The simple, yet effective, set created by Foxton gives the performers the space they need to physically express themselves while delivering a witty and poignant script that does not fail to entertain the audience.
This funnyyet thought provokingpiece is really something worth catching. The last of the UK deep pits closed as recently as December 2015 and The Pitmen Painters is a key part of the UKs mining and artistic past. It reminds us of the need to challenge the establishment within the artistic world and that given the opportunity, so many people can be creative and that the class system should not hold anyone back. A message as poignant today as it was when the pitmen took up their brushes.
Runs until 27 February 2016 | Image: Joel C fildes