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The Pitmen Painters

Theatre Royal, Glasgow
4 stars
Art, life and revolution, as anyone who heard Sex Pistols cover artist
Jamie Reid speak in the National Galleries of Scotland last Thursday
night will understand, categorically aren't the preserve of a bourgeois
establishment who buy such notions into submission. Lee Hall recognises
this too in his loving impressionistic portrait of The Ashington Group,
the alliance of Tyneside miners who came together in 1934 at a Workers
Educational Association art appreciation night-class under future head
of Edinburgh College of Art Robert Lyon, only to end up an artistic
cause celebre in their own right.

First seen at Live Theatre Newcastle in 2007 before transferring to
London and Broadway, Max Roberts' co-production with the National
Theatre is a gloriously feel-good take on social history, which
nevertheless talks about aspiration and the transformative power of art
in an intelligently expansive manner. With the men's work projected
onto screens in-between Brechtian-style captions, it's the conflict of
Trevor Fox's Oliver that forms the play's heart, as he rejects the
patronage of the wealthy Helen Sutherland, losing any chance of
developing as an artist as he goes.

The committee room banter between the men may be simplistically drawn,
though the harsh realities of the daily grind are brought home by the
din of work and war that punctuates each scene. For anyone who ever put
faith in post World War Two liberal orthodoxies, given their ongoing
destruction by every government since Margaret Thatcher's inglorious
reign, the play's final triumphant predictions of a fairer life for all
are heartbreaking. Looking at the current political climate, however,
Hall's play suggests that the worms might just be turning.

The Herald, July 27th 2011



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