Pitmen Painters

A play about pitmen who become successful painters in the 1930s?   Five miners decide that as part of their education programme they want to learn about art.  Their tutor encourages them to paint.  The result is a group that produces a unique form of art.  But are they valued for their quality or their curiosity?  Can working class miners ever stand as equals in the art world?

The beauty of the Pitmen Painters, the latest production from Oldham Coliseum, is in the high quality of the script, and the talented cast that bring it to life.  There is great depth to the characters, with well placed conflict and humour.  These are strong, believable characters that we care about.  Above all, there is a wonderful camaraderie that pulls the play together and drives the action forward.

Towards the end, the script loses its way a little, pressing both the ‘what is art?’ and the ‘working class cause’ too much.  But this is only because what has come before has already shown so clearly what are the issues, challenges and contradictions of being a working class artist in the 1930s.  Of course, history always repeats and we find ourselves having the same discussion again in 2016.  For that reason the play is timeless, and the argument seems relevant and fresh.

Visually the set is superb, supported by three screens which both evoke the locations and highlight the detail in the paintings the group produce.  This is an excellent production.

Oldham Coliseum will be forever defined for me by the gentleman who casually turned to me a year ago at the end of a play and said ‘we like our comedy in Oldham’.  Certainly the Oldham audience loved this one.

Theatre lover, amateur director, occasional actor, writer.

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