The Pitmen Painters – Palace Theatre Southend

pitmenThere’s a fascinating range of entertainment on offer at the Cliffs Pavilion and the Palace Theatre over the coming months. Their ‘What’s On’ page shows comedy ranging from Reginald D. Hunter and Omid Djalili to Jim Davidson and Andy Gray/Richard Keys. There’s music ranging from The Band of the Welsh Guards to the Mod All Star Band. There’s ‘Puppetry of the Penis in 3-D’ (hmm, it’s one thing having them on stage, it’s another thing to have them poking out of the stage at you!). And you can choose between Gardeners’ Question Time and Fatboy Slim. You can’t criticise the theatres for not covering a wide spectrum of tastes.

We went to the Palace Theatre in Westcliff for ‘The Pitmen Painters’ yesterday. Originally produced by Newcastle’s Live Theatre, and following seasons at the National Theatre and on Broadway, it’s in Westcliff as part of a national tour prior to opening in the West End.

The pitmen around whom the play revolves were the group of miners from Ashington who hired a professor to teach an art appreciation evening class in the 1930s, and who achieved fame as ‘The Ashington Group’. The play tells their story effectively, starting from the first evening of the Workers Educational Association meeting at which their art professor turns up (they had wanted to study economics, but couldn’t find a lecturer). The actors make a canny good job of handling the accents, with only a couple of slightly stilted moments (I can speak from authority as I’m from the collieries of the North East!). There are a lot of laughs throughout the evening, balancing nicely with the political message which runs throughout. There are a couple of occasions where the dialogue becomes a little too soapbox oratory, but that’s a minor quibble.

The staging is excellent, with bare floorboards and walls, the setting mostly being the hut they miners’ had their meetings in. Screens at the back are used to show the paintings done by the miners, and the discussion about them.

The story finishes with a new banner having been painted for a miners’ gala, with the miners’ optimism for the future painful to the audience in as the screens close with details of pit closures, and the Labour Party’s 1995 removal of Clause IV.

A cracking show, perhaps all the better for being in the slightly shabby genteel elegance of the Palace Theatre in Westcliff, and well worth getting yourself along to.

More details here.