Broadway Features and Reviews
The Pitmen Painters: Broadway Welcomes Mona Lisa Miners
By Caitlin Maggs, Broadway Magazine
It may come as a surprise to you that Leonardo da Vinci was actually an incredible mathematician, or even news that Van Gogh also acted as a respected preacher. But as for a bunch of Northern-bred miners in the 1930s, their unlikely fetish for watercolours and love for a decent easel have truly taken London by storm in the form of the play The Pitmen Painters.
Translated from real events of an inspired art society into a multi-awarding winning theatre phenomenon, the Pitmen Painter's tale has left critics thinking twice before they raise their pens, and even the most obtuse audiences stumbling for words. Looks can sure be deceiving. But as for the show, still on its feet after three years at the top, just what pencilled scribbles lie beneath this small story with one huge following?
Soon to paint the town red in Broadway, the National Theatre's latest success story founded on a more than just a one-layered canvas. Originally the Pitmen Painters came about from the unglamorous musings of William Feaver, a real pitman painter, and member of the newly legendary 'Ashington Group,' during the hard days of post-war Britain.
"There was plenty of community activity in those days," the Mona Lisa Miner speaks, contemplating his northern roots, "but it revolved around giant leeks in allotments, whippets and pigeons, rather than drawing in a shed."
Yet his underrated book had far greater prospects than he ever dreamed. It was not until later that his moving memoirs were finally re-sparked, by none other than a fellow Newcastle-born writer.
Taking matters into his own hands, playwright Lee Hall dug out this remarkable tale of repressed ambitions for a whole new generation. But the pressure of the spotlight was always beckoning this tale to make its stage debut.
It was not until 2007, using the same Billy Eliot winning formula that made his past musical such a global gem, the Pitmen Painters fulfilled its true potential.
Heralded as a blooming classic, Hall's careful page-to-stage manoeuvre left reviewers and audiences alike in awe. "Illuminating in one fell swoop of energy" both in the opening nights at the Newcastle Live Theatre in and at the National Theatre this year, The Daily Mail rightfully applauded this underdog production.
Beginning with limited props, ending with a limitless display of acting ability and setting changes, the play that has gotten the world thinking, is certainly not lacking in ambition. Effortlessly collecting its Evening Standard's Best Play Award, and now ready to make itself at home in Broadway.
What could possibly stand in its way?
Yet digging by day and painting by night, these gifted miners' existence wasn't all black and white. Art was exclusive in the thirties, and accessible merely for the educated. Imprisoned by their working class backgrounds, dilemmas outweighed their freedom as each were left torn between what they love, and what they were raised to be.
To find contentment in a rough and tough Northern Britain was evidently no smooth deal. Stirring events was the miner's struggling art tutor, who decided to swap their sleep-inducing theory for a more hands on, imaginative approach, "why don't you have a go?" The beautiful results of their social hardships were soon exhibited for all.
This tragically truthful tale of the misunderstood identity of a group of miners, caught in the midst of the two Great Wars, can move audiences from the brink of tears, to fits of heart-warming glee in mere seconds. Echoing the inspirational sentiments of the likes of Allan Bennett's 'The History Boys', the Pitmen Painters is at rock-bottom a story of loyalty to who you are, and a welcomed addition to the Broadway landscape this season.
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