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Previewed 5 October 2011, Opened 11 October 2011, Closed 21 January 2012 at the Duchess Theatre in London
The National Theatre's production of Lee Hall's play The Pitmen Painters in London following a sell-out run at the National Theatre and a three month season on Broadway.
In 1934, a group of Ashington miners hired a professor to teach an art appreciation evening class. Rapidly abandoning theory in favour of practice, the pitmen began to paint - prolifically. Within a few years avant-garde artists became their friends and their work was acquired by prestigious collectors; but every day they continued to work, as before, down the mine...
Full of humour, drama and revelation, Lee Hall's The Pitmen Painters - inspired by a book by William Feaver - won the Evening Standard Award for Best New Play. This is the original production directed by Max Roberts, with set and costume design by Gary McCann, lighting by Douglas Kuhrt and sound by Martin Hodgson, and featuring many of the actors who starred at the National Theatre and on Broadway.
"It is based on the true story of how Robert Lyon was engaged by the Workers' Educational Association in 1934 to teach art appreciation to miners. They began to paint and criticise one another, becoming a fêted school of 'naive' artists recording their lives. What Hall does is to reduce the numbers to a core of five, weave through their conversations his passionate views on art and justice, and entertain. That last word is important, for the first half consciously seeks fun. The cast, most of whom were in the original Newcastle production, work to perfection both in dialect and sharp near-caricature... Yet the laughs can feel uneasy in a West End theatre. Are we patronising them? Men who went down the mines as children, led lives of unimaginable hardness yet paid for cultural evening classes? And is the soft selfishness of the posh characters done too broadly, suggesting that only manual workers feel deeply? There is some sermonising, and the mantra that art makes sense of life is repeated until it loses force. But no, these are quibbles. This is important history done with passion. Every painting flashed up on the screens makes you gasp. Everyone should see it." The Times
"A hit since it premiered at Newcastle's Live Theatre in 2007 and then transferred to the National, Lee Hall's remarkable play is becoming almost as famous as the writer's best-known work Billy Elliot. Actually they make a perfect pairing, both arguing persuasively that art should not be the preserve of the privileged few but can be life-enhancing whatever your background... The mixture of mining and art might not seem a winning formula but it's the play's ability to grapple with complex issues about the nature of art and socialism while at the same time being so accessible and so tremendously entertaining - but never patronising - that sets it apart... Projections of the real pitmen's paintings effectively turn the set into a gallery while the sound of mining machinery between scenes never lets you forget the back-breaking work these men have already put in before sitting down at an easel. It all proves so well acted - and so heartfelt, so honest, so funny and so disarmingly clever - that while this West End run marks the end of the play's second national tour there must surely be more to come." The Daily Express
"The Pitmen Painters is Lee Hall's inspired, witty, serious and humbling play about a group of Northumberland miners in Ashington in the Thirties discovering their inner artist. I watched with a ready laugh and a real lump in my throat. Hall discovers lightand creativity in the darkest, hardest, most unlikely place. Based on fact, treated with the artistic licence necessary to make it work onstage, it begins with a disastrous lecture on art appreciation. The toff tutor, Robert Lyon, quickly realises the finer details of the Sistine Chapel are wasted on miners who have never looked at a painting, so instead he sets them the task of making their own art. Their raw, authentic, often extraordinarily talented response dazzles Lyon and, later, the patron and modernist art collector Helen Sutherland. Max Roberts's perfectly judged production is filled with the pitmen's paintings of Bedlington Terriers, miners bent at the coalface and flourishing allotments: the power of the play comes as much from these as from the feisty writing and astonishingly fine performances. The best new play of the year so far." The Mail on Sunday
The Pitmen Painters was originally staged in London at the National Theatre's Cottesloe Theatre where it previewed from 19 May 2009, opened on 21 May 2008 and closed on 25 June 2008 before transferring to the NT's Lyttelton Theatre from 27 January 2009 to 14 April 2009, returning from 2 to 22 September 2009, returning from 2 December 2009 to 7 February 2010. The production transferred to the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre in New York's Broadway previewed from 14 September 2010, opened on 30 September 2010 and closed on 12 December 2010. Prior to this West End presentation, the production toured the UK.
The Pitmen Painters in London at the Duchess Theatre previewed from 5 October 2011, opened on 11 October 2011 and closed on 21 January 2012.