Miner’s art is no minor success

The Pitmen Painters - Grand Theatre, Blackpool

Rather like its writer Lee Hall’s most famous creation, Billy Elliott, this play about the extraordinary group of North Eastern miners whose quest for knowledge via the admirable Workers’ Educational Association in the early 1930s has wasted no time in becoming a national success.

And quite right too. In the three years since its regional premiere it has transferred to the National Theatre, toured, been staged in Manhattan and is now being seen by what deserves to be full houses every night.

Ironically whilst Billy Elliott was a story about the incomprehension of a mining community towards an aspirant to “High Culture” (ie ballet) this tells of a group of underpaid and under educated miners aspiring to “High Art.”

They do it not for financial gain – though some are clearly tempted at times, and not for individual glory – though again the thought does cross one or two minds.

But at the end of the day (the long working day) they do it for knowledge and the freedom that their artistic expression gives them when they are not slaving down the pits.

Lee Hall captures this brilliantly in a work based on the William Feaver book about the Pitmen Painters he picked up in a second hand shop quite by chance.

If that all sounds a bit dry and didactic forget it. Hall captures the Northumberland wit and banter so perfectly this is frequently one of the funniest plays you will see in years.

The ensemble cast gels perfectly as the men who previous to their WEA meetings had never seen a real painting, never visited a gallery or library and certainly never dreamed of becoming painters.