Class struggle, humour and more
The Pitmen Painters written by the creator of Billy Elliot, Lee Hall, is showing at five venues – Darlington, Harrogate, Oxford, Outer London and Swansea between July and August.
After a long day’s strike action I went to see the Pitmen Painters, a play whose action takes place in Ashington, Northumberland between 1934 and 1947. It reveals a true story of how a group of miners discovered their artistic talents at an evening class.
The miners, eager for education, signed up for a WEA economics class. But they were offered painting which began an incredible journey where they exhibited work in top London galleries, rubbing shoulders with the creative elite. The meeting of these two very different worlds make the themes of politics, patronage, class struggle, humour and hope emerge strongly.
Most of these men had worked in Ashington Colliery from as young as ten years old. They knew they were exploited by capitalism but were very good at what they did and proud of it. These qualities are translated into their art. Painting is not a privilege of the wealthy or constrained by fashions, it is about human beings attempting to express, represent and create through the medium of paint.
Lee Hall, who read the book about the Pitman Painters, captures the essence of the miners’ story on stage. The play is touring the country so if you get the chance to see it, check it out.
“That was even better than ‘The Spirit of 45”, my partner commented as we left the theatre in Leicester.
The Pitman Painters genuinely depicts working class life and humour. The group chose to make art central to their lives but removed from the ‘economy’ of the art world. They would not let their art become a commodity.
Discussions about the meaning of art and Marxism are woven into the script in lively exchanges between group members who debate passionately about art and life.
The play shows how ordinary working people possess latent talents that is rarely given the opportunity to blossom. The Pitmen Painters were fearless souls, but they are not unique people. As playwright Lee Hall says: “that the Group managed to achieve so much unaided and unabetted should remind us that dumbing down is not a prerequisite of culture being more accessible. That is a lie perpetrated by those who want to sell us shit.”
The play ends in 1945 when a magnificent Miners Banner is unfurled saying ‘Forward to Socialism.’ The play ends on an optimistic note. The task of socialists is to create a society that lets all of us reach our full potential without worrying where the next meal is coming from or how to pay the rent.