Tuesday, March 12, 2019

The Pitmen Painters: Beauty From The Coal Mines Theatrical Outfit’s Exceptional Production

~Doc Lawrence

A Talented Cast 
Nothing fits a season celebrating beauty better that a play about the evolution of artists. Not your ordinary art students, but a group of coal miners and a dentist who are taught art appreciation in their limited leisure time and embark on a art career of historic proportions.

1934 in Northumberland’s coal country is the opening scene in Lee Hall’s The Pitmen Painters, a funny and stimulating play that tells the true story about this group of working class men and their remarkable ascent to renown in a brave new world of art. 

A pitman is a coal miner. The group who become painters speak in a Geordie accent, the common vernacular in that part of northeast England which has its origin in ancient language that many believe was spoken by Chaucer. With success and acclaim, famous artists become their friends, their works are exhibited in prestigious venues but they choose to return to the dangerous dungeon of the coal mines.

These are pure folk artists: self-taught, untrained, raw and unschooled. Their teacher is an accident. They were expecting an after-hours economics instructor. Fate intervened and a good man encouraged them to aspire to greater things beyond themselves, to contribute something from their soul and paintings were perfectly suited to do this.

They excelled, creating paintings that are permanent testaments to their creative core, that do nothing less than contribute to everlasting good. Pitmen is no Pygmalion. As they develop through the completion of more works, the reward of "seeing by doing,” they transform themselves, their leader and certainly the audience who witness a lesson of character over class and unleashed talent over unearned privilege.

It takes a veteran cast of actors to do justice to a play that is quintessentially English and under the direction of Adam Koplan, the lines are delivered by an outstanding cast who virtually take the audience to the first row of a theater in Newcastle upon Thyne. The Geordie accents quickly lose any trace of peculiarity and take on a sing-song charm. Pitmen examines the way we look at art and uncovers our desire for a deeper, more meaningful existence. It’s not surprising that when the painters see a Van Gogh exhibition, they express an immediate kinship.

During their rise to fame, financially successful artists become their friends, their work hangs in prestigious collections, and they are celebrated in high society. But they still return to the mines. Based on a true story, this heartfelt lesson about character over class and talent over privilege challenges the way we look at art and reveals our universal desire for a richer, more colorful existence.

Geordie is more than an accent; it is the DNA of a culture. The Pitman Painters is far more than a story about men breaking the shackles of class. It is a triumph of the human spirit that affirms art as an intrinsic part of our humanity. 

Through March 24.
(678) 528.1500
Photo Credit: Casey Gardner