In fact after seeing The Pitmen Painters and enjoying it so much, Bookhound and I did an appraisal and decided we must go to theatre-luvvie land much more often, well as often as a good production stops by, because we've even found seats in the house that we love.
Years ago we took the children to a panto there and made the mistake of the Upper Circle. I don't normally get vertigo but it is incredibly steep, quite disorientating and I felt I really should have had the children roped together and in safety harnesses.
But the Dress Circle offers a great view of the stage, not too near not too far, even sitting behind the tallest man in West Devon again wouldn't have mattered and Bookhound says he can even forgive the lack of leg room as long as he's enjoying the production. So we have already booked our seats for the Alan Bennett comedy Enjoy starring the inestimable Alison Steadman along with David Troughton and playing next March.
Absolutely no one annoyed us either which was a pleasant surprise, no back row singing along.
It's interesting to see a modern play in performance that you have previously only read, to then discover how much more is revealed, and of course there was so much I had missed by playing all the parts myself as well as trying to perfect a Geordie accent.
The play is based on actual events just before and after the second world war and concerns the rise to fame of the Ashington miners who, following on from successful evening classes in Geology and Evolution, organise an Art Appreciation class for themselves under the auspices of tutor Robert Lyon. Lyon pitches in with his standard slide show but it quickly becomes apparent that there has to be a better way to tutor an audience with little or no knowledge or experience of art and so he persuades the group to start painting for themselves with startling results.
What on earth do I know about assessing acting and performance?
Well, not a lot beyond the annual village play but with a cast line-up that has been together since The Pitmen Painters first opened two years ago it was obvious no one was going to forget their lines and nor did the hand appear from the wings to pull back the reluctant curtain because there wasn't one.
It all seemed superb to me, impossible to pick out any star performances, everyone a winner but mention of Ian Kelly playing the part of Robert Lyon seems appropriate. Life events and fame do little to change the Pitmen Painters, it is the very middle-class Robert Lyon who undergoes those subtle and emotional shifts in attitude and whose hubris is reduced a notch or three and Ian Kelly captures it all with great sincerity.
The humour was of course spontaneous and much more evident than my solo reading, often deeply poignant too because this is a play with some serious messages just beneath the surface. Art and what makes great art, who decides what is great art alongside the fickle nature of the market and the collectors who swiftly move on to the next best thing. This is all balanced alongside a group of miners who seem to know so little about their new subject, but who actually know so much, in fact they know the things that matter and rapidly reduce a subject highjacked by the elite into its purest form.
The debate about the difference between an upper class blob of paint on the paper versus the working class blob and relative values will stay in my mind forever as will every one of these characters, and the incredible final rendition of the Gresford Hymn which makes a perfect finale. Sung in beautiful harmony to a silver band accompaniment, this was written in 1934 to commemorate the Gresford Pit disaster, a gas explosion which claimed 266 lives.
The Pitmen Painters has now returned to the National Theatre in London, running until January and most definitely worth seeing if you are in the city.
Final words to Lee Hall from his introduction in the programme and which somehow touched a real chord with me,
'That the Group managed to achieve so much unaided and unabetted should remind us that dumbing down is not a prerequisite of culture being more accessible. That is a lie perpetrated by those who want to sell us s**t. Culture is something we share and we are all the poorer for anyone excluded from it'