‘The Pitman Painters’: Beating the odds in the art world

Paul Whitworth, Patrick Jones and Jackson Davis in “The Pitman

Award-winning writer Lee Hall knows his way around words. He has given us the superb “Billy Elliott” and co-wrote the screenplay for the heart-wrenching “War Horse.” His smooth dialogue for “The Pitman Painters” flows with his usual glib, natural depth for the subject at hand. This bittersweet, humorous piece tells the true story about a grungy group of coal miners who decide to enhance their drab lives. With great trepidation, they decide to participate in (government supplied) art appreciation classes, never thinking they would eventually become famous and in demand in the art world.
We are shown how classes of the time (early ‘30s) were thought to be a barrier and the need for education and upper social paths could place hurdles in the journey they accidentally take.
The Ashington Group (referring to the area in Northern England they were from) comes to us with the patient instructor Paul Whitworth, and his incredulous students James Carpenter, Jackson Davis, Dan Hiatt and Patrick Jones. They all bring in strong and interesting performances of men who spend most of their days in the depth of a coal mine. They come out and find – to their astonishment – they bloom in the art world.
Leslie Martinson directs with a deft hand and keeps the course of the action sensitive and perceptive while moving at a good pace.
Andrea Bechert’s sparse set cleverly keeps what is on stage clear with Jim Gross’s projections, with original Ashington Group paintings shown on screens in the background.
The TheatreWorks West Coast premiere of “The Pitman Painters” is an enjoyable, well-done piece of theater that is an intriguing true story of the underdog coming out on top and proving that art and self expression are more than in the eye of the beholder.

Where: Mountain View Center For the Performing Arts, 500 CastroSt., Mountain View
Through: Feb. 12
Tickets: $19 – $69
Details: (650) 463-1960 or visit www.theatreworks.org