Wednesday, 28 October 2009

The Pitman Painters – Lowry Theatre, Salford

The Pitman Painters
Writer: Lee Hall
Director: Max Roberts
Reviewer: John Roberts

A group of miners set up an arts appreciation class, over the coming years they become world famous painters, and held as one of the singularly biggest movements in British art history. You would be forgiven if you thought it sounded like the world’s most boring play, and that might be the case if this production wasn’t based on the truth or if a different playwright had been commissioned.

The Pitman Painters has had unrivalled success since its first production at Newcastle’s Live Theatre in 2007.It has been staged by the National Theatre no less than three times, and after this current UK tour will get its fourth National outing, but what is it that has gripped the nation to take this play under its wings and make it the success it is?

One would argue that it is the story of the underdogs doing good, we as a nation are gripped by such stories every day, we like to hold on to the fact that although we live in the 21st century we are still plagued by racial issues and a class system where usually the middle classes are the privileged few, so when a play highlights the rise and fame of four miners, who through their paintings of what they know,( the pits and their village) one can’t help but feel that anything is possible, just as long as you put your heart and soul into it.

Lee Hall is probably best known as the writer of Billy Elliott, and has proven himself as the best candidate for the job of writing scripts based in the North East. Hall stays true to his roots and he ably manages to captivate the sense of real community, and companionship in the characters he writes. writing with a true sense of conviction and laden with northern charm and wit, which helps give the show a naturalistic and warm resonance to the show, balancing the fine act between the more human side of the piece (which is its strongest element) and the more lecture/fact based exposition.

Max Roberts’ direction helps keep the pace going, with swift scene changes in full view of the audience, he manages to keep your attention even through the saggy back end of the 1st act. With a great use of projection helping us keep track of the time scale of the piece (over 10 years) the screens also are utilised as a way of showing us on a larger scale the miners paintings.

Excellent performances are given throughout by the cast, who surprisingly still seem as fresh as ever even though they have been with the show since day one. Christopher Connell as Oliver Kilbourn is well cast and provides a much needed softer edge to the miners contingent. Dekka Walmsley as George Brown the leader of the group and WEA Rep is suitably proud and pompus throughout, but it is the performance of David Whitaker as Jimmy Floyd, the more simple minded member of the group that brings out all the comedy of the piece, and one can’t help but warm to his charcter throughout.

The Pitman Painters isn’t without its flaws though, without the use of the projection screens, one wouldn’t be able to see the change in the pieces timeline, with no discerning change in any of the characters physicality or costume as the years fly by. As previously said the funnier first act, starts to sag towards the end of its 70minute first half, and the second half seems even more serious because of it.

Overall The Pitman Painters is a great show, with excellent performances, and a heart warming script, and one to watch if you enjoy seeing the Underdogs do well.

Photos: Keith Pattinson
Runs until Sat 31st Oct
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