Socialist Worker

Lee Hall: playwright who turned Pitmen Painters into a performance

by Amy Leather
Issue No. 2173

In this fascinating, and one of the last ever editions of the South Bank Show, writer Lee Hall talks about his recent play, The Pitmen Painters.

The play is based on the real experiences of miners in Ashington, near Newcastle, during the 1930s and 1940s. The Pitmen Painters were a group of miners and self-taught artists, described as “scum” and “unlettered” by the mine-owner Lord Londonderry.

Their paintings are vibrant, vivid and colourful and depict life both down the pits and on the outside. Because photographing underground was extremely difficult at the time there was little visual representation of life in the mines.

The paintings captured the harshness of life but, more importantly, they also showed that working class people are more than just the job they do.

Mining communities at the time had their own reading rooms, choirs and bands. Many of the paintings depict this wider life.

The South Bank Show also raises questions about education and how people learn. Lee Hall describes how in the 1970s his education was influenced by the “children of 1968” coming to Newcastle to teach.

Working class kids like him were able to attend well-funded drama programmes where they could write their own plays, rather than just learn about other people’s.

The programme also interviews other playwrights and art critics, and includes some of the Pitmen themselves, together with footage of the play’s rehearsals.

What a shame that ITV has brought the axe down on its only “culture” show.

South Bank Show
ITV1, Sunday 18 October, 10.15pm

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Article information

Tue 13 Oct 2009, 18:11 BST
Issue No. 2173
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