Monday, September 20, 2010
The Pitmen Painters **
I was really looking forward to this MTC import because it had been well received in London. Lee Hall, whose book and lyrics for Billy Elliot: The Musical were so satisfying, once again mines the vein of northern England and its miners in his adaptation of a book by William Feaver about the Ashington Group. This group of miners learned to paint in the late 1930's under the auspices of their union's education program. Their paintings attracted first local, then national attention, which, judging from the projections seen in the play, was well-deserved. Unfortunately, I found the paintings and the underlying story more interesting than the play. The characters seemed mostly stereotypical and the situations predictable. Hall too often settles for an easy laugh. He aspires to high seriousness about the proper role of art and the promise of socialism, but the narrative lacks a clear arc and pretty much fizzles out when the mines are nationalized. Having said all this, I hasten to add that the play is far from an unpleasant experience. I'm sure I would have enjoyed it more if my expectations, based on Hall's previous work, had not been so high.