Review: The Pitmen Painters
Pittsburgh Irish Classical TheaterProfessional Theater in Residence at the University of Pittsburgh
J F Harrison
The Pony Putter
I have four words for the Pitmen Painters: Riveting, Irreverent, Insightful and Amazing. I thoroughly enjoyed the play “The Pitmen Painters” presented by the Pittsburgh Irish Classical Theater. This is a play based on a true story of Robert Lyon, Master of Painting at Armstrong College, Newcastle and his relationship with the miners who desired to know more about the world through their organization, The Workers Education Association.
The play presents a series of classes spanning the 13 years from 1934 to 1947. During that time the world was convulsed in a major depression, a horrific war and post war recovery. The original members of the class, thirty of them, are depicted amazingly by five actors. From the first class, I was captured by their interaction and how they fought with one another and the instructor to understand a world that was beyond their experience. We forget how rigid the class system was in England, and how little they really interacted or understood one another. The world was defined in a certain way, and, as Americans, it is difficult for us to really understand such a rigid system. The play gives an insightful look into that world. One technique used to draw one into their time, work and life circumstances was to portray scenes on a screen with a projector that was behind the actors. Through those pictures, and the actor’s dialogue in front, one gets immersed in their world
Lyon quickly realizes that he cannot just lecture to the miners. He must find a way to communicate and break down the class barriers. He decides to teach the men to paint. He challenges them to explain their world. He asks them to paint men, women and children involved in hard, backbreaking, dangerous work and to explain their everyday lives through the pictures they paint of life above and below the ground. And paint they did, marvelously! Each scene one sees the men grow, open up and demonstrate their artistic gifts, become knowledgeable in art and be able to speak elegantly and insightfully about pieces of art.
The acting was superb. I was entranced and felt I was a cat sitting in the corner, watching it all. When the intermission came, I was surprised. It took me a few seconds to bring myself back from the mid 1930’s in England. When it ended I wanted to say, “Wait! There’s more! Tell me more.”
I invite you to go and see “The Pitmen Painters” and be captured as I was by the play. It is a wonderful way to spend an evening!
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