The Pitmen Painters
After a successful run in London the Pitmen Painters is making its American Premiere on Broadway. It is the new play from playwright Lee Hall, most well known for the International smash success of Billy Elliot. His latest work makes painfully clear his deep understanding of the landscape, language, and culture of Northumberland, England's coal country. A troubled and tough working-class area he grew up in which has all but disappeared. The new play follows the same recipe which worked so well in his previous musical. It is almost a perfect blend of Billy Elliot and the Tony Award winning play "Red" which was staged on Broadway this year. An unlikely true tale which is sure to take hold of theater-goers and may just grab a Tony or two along the way.
The Pitmen Painters is set in 1930's Northern England, established for its mining industry. In 1934 a visiting painting instructor Robert Lyon (Ian Kelly) takes an interest in a group of miners. Lyon's is a high brown college professor wanting to share his love of the arts. He begins showing slides of Renaissance painters to his new found students. He opens them up for debate and conversation on the pieces but after his initial lecture realizes the group has no connection. The art instructor decides to have them actually create their own etchings and paintings. The miners reluctantly take part in the exercise but soon discover their individual power within the art of painting.
Through the use of their new found art skills than men begin expressing their own attitudes toward lives lived in and around the mines. They turn out to be pretty darn good artists and begin gaining attention for their works. Near the end of the second act, they travel to Edinburgh and London in order to expand their creative horizons. They become enthusiastic advocates, and show off their confidence and knowledge. With the help of Helen Sutherland, an art-loving shipping-line heiress, the group of paintbrush brandishing coal miners reach almost iconic celebrity status. They would become to be called the "Ashington Group," and still talked about in art circles worldwide.
The true emotional connection to the story and characters comes from the last scene of the first act. As the five men travel into London taking in the artwork at the Tate Gallery. The painters become overwhelmed with what they see and feel, talking over each other in pure childlike enthusiasm. As they inch closer to the edge of the stage and engage the audience with their newfound revelation the viewer is left to ponder the resonating message. This finale scene is so powerful that it makes it difficult for the next act to deliver any further resolve. The second act does, however, deliver some great dramatic moments built around Helen's particular liking towards the student Oliver Kilbourn (Christopher Connel).
As with the formula which drove Billy Elliot into stardom The Pitmen Painters Follows suit. It is an underdog story, the struggle to beat down stereotypes and discovers ones own individuality. In Billy Elliot an entire community gets behind a young boy's dream of becoming a ballet dancer. In Hall's new play a group of five local miners discover their love and talent of painting from within the same landscape. Through the constant debate, conversation and considerations, many issues are raised. It becomes evident that Hall has a clear grasp of writing drama which daringly touches on social commentary influenced from the atmosphere in which he was raised. The Broadway production of The Pitmen Painters includes the entire brilliant original U.K. cast under the direction of Max Roberts'. You can view our great selection of The Pitmen Painters tickets online by clicking the link.
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