Review: Company of Ten’s convincing production of The Pitmen Painters

PUBLISHED: 11:41 13 November 2019 | UPDATED: 14:37 13 November 2019

The Company of Ten presents The Pitmen Painters at the Abbey Theatre in St Albans.

The Company of Ten presents The Pitmen Painters at the Abbey Theatre in St Albans.

Abbey Theatre

Madeleine Burton reviews Company of Ten’s production of The Pitmen Painters at the Abbey Theatre in St Albans.

The Company of Ten preserts The Pitmen Painters at the Abbey Theatre in St Albans. Picture: Abbey TheatreThe Company of Ten preserts The Pitmen Painters at the Abbey Theatre in St Albans. Picture: Abbey Theatre

A play from the writer of Billy Elliot is inevitably going to be a hymn to the working class northerner.

So it comes as no surprise that The Pitmen Painters by Lee Hall takes a benevolent look at how a group of mostly miners became the respected Ashington Group of artists.

But what is so winning about the play is the light touch Hall applies to its subject and how comic it is.

Currently being staged by the Company of Ten on the Abbey Theatre main stage, it has its ranting moments - generally about the point of art and those who have the talent to do it - but that does not detract from an entertaining and enjoyable evening.

In fact, one of those diatribes by art teacher Mr Lyon to skilled artist and miner Oliver was so good on Saturday that it prompted spontaneous applause from the audience.

Not an easy play to stage, director Jenny Kilcast and her team excel themselves by the use of background graphics to enable the audience to see the paintings in much more detail than had they been left on easels or on the wall.

And even though it must be extremely demanding of the cast, she ensures they retain their north-east accents throughout the play.

The result is a convincing production that captures the essence of the characters and does the Company of Ten proud.

The aforementioned Rory Byrne is as good as Company of Ten regulars have come to expect in the role of Mr Lyon, the teacher who realises art itself, not just appreciation of it, will bring the men together.

And the men themselves, miners George, Oliver and Jimmy together with dental technician Harry are all fascinating characters.

Each actor captures the essence of their character - the hidebound George played by David Bailey, the quick banter of Jimmy played by Nick Baker, the Marxist Harry, Kevin Broadfoot, and the gentle but talented Oliver, Peter McEntee.

John Kenner takes the role of Young Lad to whom falls the most poignant moment in the play, while Cassandra Cartwright is the wealthy collector Helen and Susannah Wyeth sparkles as the earthy artists' model Susan.

The Pitmen Painters asks plenty of questions about art and its role, thankfully pricking a lot of the pomposity surrounding the subject, but at the end of the day it is entertainment, pure and simple.

It runs until Saturday, November 16 and tickets can be obtained from the box office on 01727 857861 or go to www.abbeytheatre.org.uk


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