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.
In addition to Billy Elliot (for which he wrote the book and lyrics), Hall’s other stage credits include Cooking With Elvis, Spoonface Steinberg and fivetwothreeonefour. Max Roberts directs the original Newcastle company, including Christopher Connel, Ian Kelly and Michael Hodgson. The production is designed by Gary McCann, with lighting by Douglas Kuhrt and sound from Martin Hodgson. An exhibition of the work of the Ashington Group is currently on display in the NT Olivier foyer.
Critics were unanimous in their praise of the “warm, gritty humour” and generous working-class spirit of Lee Hall’s new play, which make for a “tragic, funny and illuminating” and “intensely moving” evening. Max Roberts’ “sublime” production was also commended for the quality of its performances, not least those of Christopher Connel and David Whitaker. Overall, critics agreed that The Pitmen Painters is “a beautiful work of art that everyone should see”.
- by Kate Jackson
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