Sunday, 21 April 2013

Pitmen Painters

I caught the touring production of the Pitmen Painters at the Bradford Alhambra. It’s based on the true story of the Ashington group of untrained coalminer painters from around the time of WW II.

Although it began with some low comedy about accent impenetrability and then some social class tension drama, things picked up to make for quite a thought-provoking play. Two quick things stood out. The first was a plausibly open ended question of the necessary connection (or not) of the group, their work and their profession.  Did they have to be closely connected to their particular community to have the artistic identity they had?

Second, there was an interesting issue of how to address the contingency of the fact that just that group of people, gathered originally (or so the play asserted) for other reasons came to prominence. Did it show, as the group’s Professor Higgins asserted, that just anyone given the right opportunities for self expression could paint? Or, as the painters themselves suggested in response, (in the play, that is,) that just they were the people from the community who, as a matter of fact, had any natural ability? Appealingly, neither forced choice seemed plausible but it wasn’t clear what that left.