Saturday, October 2, 2010

The Pitmen Painters

Perhaps Lee Hall intended his new play “The Pitmen Painters” to be an unofficial prequel to his popular musical “Billy Elliot.” Both are powerful, humorous and warm-hearted studies in the power of the arts to transform lives in the working class cultures of British mining communities.

Based on William Feaver’s novel, “The Pitmen Painters” dramatizes the famous story of the Ashington Group, a collective of miners in the mid-1930s whose lives are forever changed by participating in an art appreciation class.

Rather than study the classics, the miners are assigned to paint their own canvases, which are projected on large screens for the audience to view. From the very start, they bring a distinctive energy and perspective to their art. Pretty soon, the men receive attention from the critics for their work.

The motley cast of characters includes an academic tutor, a radical socialist, an uptight union official, an injured dental mechanic, and a rich female art patron who offers one of the miners the rare chance to leave the mines and focus entirely on his art.

Throughout the play, the characters debate the meaning, purpose and politics of art and question how it affects their individual and group identities.

It is truly our good fortune that the entire original English cast has traveled with the Max Roberts’ detailed production to Broadway. They are all individually excellent and make for a fiery and passionate ensemble.

If you go – “The Pitmen Painters” plays at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre through December 12. 261 W. 47th St., 212-239-6200, mtc-nyc.org.

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