To see the wonderful National Theatre production of Lee Hall's The Pitmen Painters last night. Max Roberts' production of the story of a group of Northumberland miners whose artistic talents were unleashed thanks to a combination of the Workers Educational Association and an academic art teacher from Durham University, Robert Lyon, who believed in them makes for great theatre and a splendid mix of comedy and tragedy. The group saw their work displayed in galleries during the 1930s and found themselves feted by the art establishment. Of course, there were tensions with their new-found fame, and the clash between a belief in tight-knit community values and an aspiration to get on in the world are well explored, with aspiration the loser or community values the winner depending on your perspective. The staging is splendid with overhead projections of the paintings and art blended with an otherwise simple stage that is perfect for the many scene changes. The cast is great, and while the author is keen to bemoan the failings of post-war Britain to embrace socialism, the real loss is perhaps the spirit of auto-didactism that inspired such a culture of learning and inquiry. The Bath audience cheered the cast into four well-deserved encores. I can easily see why this play won so many awards. It is back in London soon, and is well worth seeing.
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