I was lucky enough to review the original production of Pitmen Painters at the Live Theatre way back in 2007; since then it has toured, played at the National Theatre, London's West End and Broadway.
So to see it again, several years on, worried me, as often productions suffer as they tour and cast change. But my fears were totally unfounded as this production (presented by Bill Kenwright, the Live Theatre and National Theatre) is first rate, the cast are excellent and the production is as good, if not better, than the original.
The main action takes place in Ashington, so this is a true homecoming for the play and is based on the real life events of the Pitmen Painters, a group of miners who try to extend their knowledge by understanding art and end up abandoning theory in favour of practice resulting in exhibitions of their paintings.
Written by Lee Hall (Billy Elliot) the play is very funny as well moving. Director Max Roberts has brilliantly taken the play from the small intimate staging of the Live Theatre to the large stages of the proscenium arch theatres without losing anything and introduced three large screens so we can examine the paintings.
Of course the North East audience delights in the local references and issues with the dialect, which adds to the evening.
While it is truly an ensemble piece in the faultless cast, it is Riley Jones who plays both the "young lad" and Ben Nicholson, as well as Philip Correia as Oliver Kilbourn who are exceptional. Correias' character is torn when he is offered work as a painter by Helen Sutherland (Suzy Cooper) and you feel his angst as he wrestles with the decision of accepting the job or not, a decision he later regrets.
This is a must see production that has lost nothing since it originally opened in 2007, in fact it's matured with age.