THE PITMEN PAINTERS
Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York
It's 1934 and a group of miners in Ashington, Northumberland, have decided to study Art Appreciation in evening classes after work – having failed to find a tutor for their preferred subject of Economics.
It turns into one of the most unusual experiments in British art as the pitmen learn to become painters themselves. Within a few years their work is being celebrated throughout the British art world – and today it still stands as a complete record of life in a northern mining community.
Lee Hall – creator of Billy Elliott – turned the story of the Ashington Group, as they came to be known, into The Pitmen Painters, inspired by a book he came across written by the art critic and writer William Feaver. It premiered at Newcastle's Live Theatre in 2007 to much acclaim before transferring to the National Theatre in 2008.
Pick Me Up brought the play to York audiences for the first time in a production hailed as "tremendous" by York Press reviewer Charles Hutchinson. Read his review here.
Director Robert Readman said: "Lee Hall created a real masterpiece with The Pitmen Painters. It’s laugh-out-loud funny from start to finish, it’s constantly thought-provoking and it’s immensely moving.”
Hall says that in his mind the Ashington miners aren't an anomaly – "but reflect a huge yearning within the working-class and the Labour movements for access to the best things in life".
He says: " Our pitmen were not content merely to observe but made art themselves, and I find that exemplary. If we see culture or high art as something separate, something just to contemplate, buy and sell, we are far from the notion of culture and art as it was experienced for millennia before the Industrial Revolution. Culture is for living, not commodification, and art should be about taking part. Real art is communal and active; it is not owned by anyone, but should be the intellectual and emotional air we breathe. The more people who take part, the richer it is, and for every person excluded the poorer we become."
May 5-9 2015
Video Sound Design