The Pitman Painters
16th May 2017
After a year long wait, I finally got to see this production by the team at the Royalty. Lee Hall's northern classic was scheduled to run last season but unfortunately had to be cancelled at the twelfth hour. I was keen to see how the team at the Royalty tackled the play, especially considering the enforced hiatus.
It is one of my favourite plays, probably because Lee Hall writes with such empathy about the north east. His characters are entirely believable and are written with genuine affection and humour yet he does not sugar coat them. So with the Pitman Painters we have five irascible characters who argue and bicker, sometimes in fun, sometimes in earnest, yet manage never to fall out altogether despite their disagreements.
They come together for the unlikely purpose of taking an art appreciation class with the WEA. It very quickly becomes clear that the tutor's planned programme is way above the heads of the pitman and so a compromise is found - they will learn to appreciate art through participating in art themselves - they will be painters. It is glorious to see their development from huffy, defensive, reluctant painters into a group who are confident and assured enough to voice their opinions, and to exhibit their art.
Their forthright salt of the earth manner provokes plenty of chuckles from the audience.
There are some fair performances - Kristian Colling as George Brown - the stickler for the rules and regulations, holds the group together, breaking up the arguments when they start to get too earnest, particularly between Harry (Graham Alex) and Jimmy (Michael Fletcher) who just can't see eye to eye about anything. Yet just as often, George stalls the progress of the group when regulations look like they may be contravened.
Matt McNamee takes on the role of Oliver Kilbourn - the pitman who is most affected by the art class. Oliver's character is different to the others, as he struggles inwardly with the idea of becoming something other than a pitman, and this is a challenging first major role for McNamee. He acquitted himself well, though his performance was lacking some of the emotion I expected from his character. That said he has certainly grown as an actor and I look forward to seeing how he develops in future roles.
David Farn plays the intellectual and rather pretentious art tutor who benefits from the group. There are some lovely moments when he begins to pontificate and is undercut by the pitmen and Mrs Sullivan (Corinne Kilvington).
What makes the show for me is the clear chemistry between Michael Fletcher, Graham Alex and Kristian Colling. Their timing and delivery is almost perfect, and the banter between their three characters acts as a foil for the seriousness of Oliver Kilbourn.
It's a play with a message that is still relevant today though it is set in the mid-20th Century, social class, capitalism, nationalisation, working class aspirations and bourgeois pretensions. Well worth seeing, Pitman Painters runs until Sat 20th May.