Dominic Cooke's The Comedy of Errors
Rev Stan's 2011 theatre review - the good and the bad lists

The perfect Pitman Painters

Pitmen painters, duchessEvery now and again comes along an unassuming play that completely blows me away and Pitmen Painters is one them. 

OK so I'm a little late to the party, it is been garnering five star reviews all over the place since its debut in Newcastle in 2007, subsequent transfer to the National, UK tour and Broadway run but better late than never. 

Written by Lee Hall and inspired by the William Feaver book, it is about a group of North East pit workers in 1930/40s whom the Workers Education Association organises art appreciation classes.

Posh art prof Robert Lyon (Ian Kelly) travels up from Durham to take the class once a week but it quickly turns into a painting class with the pitmen proving to have hidden talents that quickly get noticed by the art world glitterati.

If you take the warmth and fun of say The Full Monty or Billy Elliot, if that isn't too cliched, but add art appreciation, social commentary and history you get somewhere close to what Pitmen Painters is like as a play.

It is effectly and simply staged, as a painting is displayed on an easel a larger image is projected on screens over the actors heads for all to see. The only furniture is simple, wooden folded chairs that are moved into various configurations depending on the location of the scene. There is even a bit of art in action, although not done with quite as much drama and intensity as the painting scene in Red at the Donmar last year. The acting is also faultless.

For me the collision of the straight-talking and unpretentious miners with the privileged and pretentious gloss of the upper classes is beautifully and superbly executed. Both classes are exposed as having their prejudices, foibles and rather big chips on their shoulders but it is handled with sympathy, humour and heart.  

Not quite my last play of the year but it nonetheless feels like I am going out on a high. I'm giving it five stars and who knows it might even make my top ten for 2011...

Pitman Painters is on at the Duchess Theatre until April 14.


Tricky one this one but got there in the end: Ian Kelly who plays Robert Lyon was Mr Granger in HP7a opposite Michelle Fairley as Mrs Granger. Fairley was in Othello with Edward Bennett who was in Hamlet with Patrick Stewart who Mr W has recently worked with for Richard II. Phew.