The Pitmen Painters at Live Theatre, Newcastle, until October 27
ART and the meaning of art lie at the heart of Lee Hall’s new play to reopen Live after its stunning revamp.
But how much warmer and more endearing is this offering than Yasmina Reza’s Art, an inexplicably hip West End fixture for years.
It’s real, for one thing – or at least inspired by reality.
A cast from Live’s top drawer recall the Ashington pitmen who, under the tutelage of WEA teacher Robert Lyon, became darlings of the art world in the 1930s.
And then, after Lyon had gone on to better things, carried on painting until they, too, were all gone.
Lee Hall’s work has always had the human touch and he invests in these largely composite characters genuine feeling and individuality.
There’s George Brown (Deka Walmsley), a stickler for the art group’s CIU-style constitution; Harry Wilson (Michael Hodgson), the socialist who was gassed on the Somme and don’t anyone forget it; and Jimmy Floyd (Dave Whitaker) who tried to paint a deluge but ended up with a Bedlington terrier.
Lyon (Ian Kelly) and wealthy art collector Helen Sutherland (Phillippa Wilson) land like aliens from a more prosperous planet.
But in the end their wealth and education fail to turn the head of even the most committed of the pitmen artists, Oliver Kilbourn, movingly played by Christopher Connel.
Perhaps real life didn’t wrap things up quite so simply; perhaps there is a touch of idealistic wishful thinking in this play version of events.
But it’s full of real North-East humour and values. Some things money can’t buy.