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The Pitmen Painters (tour - Westcliff, Palace Theatre)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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Lee Hall's play The Pitmen Painters is rapidly turning itself into a class of its genre. That genre, however, is beginning to see a trifle old-fashioned. If you've never seen the Live Theatre Newcastle co-production with the National Theatre on its previous tours, Max Roberts gives an edge to this story of a group of Ashington miners who fell into art almost accidentally which allows for the historical documentary cum agit-prop elements to be partly submerged by the human interest story.

There's an old adage which says that those who can, do. Those who can't, teach. So artist Robert Lyon (Louis Hilyer), who's something of an also-ran member of the 1930s art establishment, arrives one evening to lecture on art appreciation for a Workers' Educational Association group. They're a motley collection of hard-working men and somehow Lyon weans them off the sort of high art with which they can't really build a rapport and onto making their own art.

One of the group, Oliver Kilbourn (Philip Correia), has real talent which is spotted by collector Helen Sutherland (Suzy Cooper) but her offer to finance his work is something he cannot summon up the courage to accept. Correeia has one marvellous speech when he explains the significance of a Ben Nicholson abstract painting to the others, gaining authority with every sentence. Nicholas Lumley as convenor George Brown, Joe Cafffrey as Harry Wilson and Donald McBride as Jimmy Floyd also give sterling performances.


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