Funny, charming, moving, heartwarming - Pitmen Painters is magnificent

FUNNY, charming, moving, heartwarming - the magnificent Pitman Painters currently showing at the Theatre Royal Brighton this week is an absolute joy.

Based on a true story, and written by Lee Hall, who is responsible for Billy Elliot, and directed by Max Roberts, The Pitman Painters introduces the audience to a group of Ashington miners eager to learn more about the art world. Soon the audience are rolling around in hysterics as the characters hire a professor, played expertly by David Leonard, to teach them how to determine what a painting truly means.

He soon discovers the best way for the group to understand art is for them to paint it themselves.

This leads to a hilarious set of paintings by the miners, with arms which are ‘too big’ and an inexplicable giant green dog casually standing in a garden.

Within a few years, the group have improved to such an extent, the most avant-garde artists become their friends and they are hosting exhibitions of their work.

Despite their increasing fame the group carry on with the day job – working down the mine. They are not altered by their talents and remain down to earth, hard working men, making the play heartwarming and moving.

The star of the show for me was Trevor Fox playing Oliver Kilbourn. His gritty and emotional performance had me in tears as he struggled to give up his mining and pursue a career with art collector Helen Sutherland, played by Joy Brook. He somehow felt guilty for turning on the job that had provided for him and his family for so long and which he felt defined him.

The play highlights working class attitudes and politics of the time. There is so much packed into the story it leaves you desperate for more and sad when the play comes to an end.

I particularly liked the set. Three screens project the Pitmens work so the audience can see the paintings the characters are working on and talking about. They also display the year and the location so that when the play moves around the audience know exactly where the characters are.

I thought this was very clever as all to often I am bored by how ‘static’ some plays can be, with no sense of development or movement.

At the end the group sing a mining song. It made the hairs stand up on the back of my neck, it was so beautiful and moving. You could have heard a pin drop amongst the audience who were silent, completely immersed in its splendour.

I have to say I loved this play. I cannot praise it enough and I’m not sure my words can do it justice. I want to see it again and again, and you will too.

I’m off to order more tickets now...

The play runs until Saturday September 3.

For tickets contact the box office on 08448 717 650, Ambassador tickets on 0844 871 7615 or online at