Socialist Worker

The Pitmen Painters

by Anna Gluckstein
Issue No. 2104

Christopher Connel as a miner (Pic: Keith Pattison)

Christopher Connel as a miner (Pic: Keith Pattison)

Lee Hall’s new play is based on a true story about a group of miners from Ashington in Northumberland who, in 1934, hired a professor to teach them art appreciation.

He started by showing them slides of the paintings of Michelangelo, which they had never seen.

He realised that the only way that they could appreciate art was by creating it. The Pitmen Painters is the story of their development.

They produced fantastic art that is still on display today. They were very successful and held shows in London and the north of England.

It is a very entertaining and funny play, with a sophisticated exploration of the nature of art and culture, and their relationship to class.

During a question and answer session the professor says that their work shows that all working class people are able to paint.

But the miners say, “Hang on, we are all individual and unique. This shows that we are good painters and other people can do other things.”

The play, like Lee Hall’s previous work Billy Elliot, shows that given the opportunity working class people can transform themselves and their surroundings – it is a socialist play.

An offer from a rich patron provokes a telling debate among the miners about whether they are a collective or a group of individuals.

The play also shows the hard life that miners faced. One of them talks about going down the pit at the age of ten even though he was afraid of the dark. He had no other option.

It ends with the nationalisation of the mines in 1947, which transformed the lives of the miners.

It is an illuminating play and a very satisfying night at the theatre.

The Pitmen Painters
Written by Lee Hall
Cottesloe Theatre,
central London
Until 25 June

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Article information

Tue 3 Jun 2008, 18:18 BST
Issue No. 2104
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