Pitmen Paint 2009 NT Return, Gordon Gets Lesson???Date: 10 June 2008
Lee Hall’s latest play The Pitmen Painters has proved a critical and box-office success at the National Theatre (See Review Round-up, 23 May 2008). So much so that, after it finishes its limited season in rep in the 400-seat Cottesloe, it’s likely to return for a longer run in the 900-seat Lyttelton in January, ahead of a potential West End transfer.
The politically-charged drama has also been attracting plenty of non-theatrical interest. Prime minister Gordon Brown attended last Thursday’s performance – the night after Arts Council chief executive Alan Davey - and was, reportedly, both unsettled and absorbed by the play, taking the opportunity to discuss some of the old Labour issues raised – around the democratisation of culture and the failures of universal education – with the playwright at the interval.
The piece - inspired by real-life events as recorded in William Feaver’s book of the same name - is set in 1934 in Ashington, where a group of miners have hired a Workers’ Educational Association professor to teach an art appreciation class. Unable to inspire the miners through lectures alone, the class soon begin producing works of their own and the results prompt a sharp discussion of the role and place of art within society.
Hall’s play laments the lost post-war opportunities and society’s subsequent “dumbing down” along class lines. As the author comments in The Pitmen Painters programme: “Dumbing down is not a prerequisite of culture being more accessible. That is a lie perpetrated by those who want to sell us shit. Culture is something we share and we are all the poorer for anyone excluded from it.” Let’s hope that Brown and the Arts Council have taken proper note.