Phil Willmott catches up with a long running hit show that sheds fascinating light on a group of extraordinary men.
Venue: Duchess Theatre, London, October 5-January 21
Authors:Lee Hall, inspired by a book by William Feaver
Director: Max Roberts
Cast: Joe Caffrey, Trevor Fox, David Whitaker, Brian Lonsdale, Michael Hodgson, Ian Kelly, Viktoria Kay, Joy Brook, Brian Lonsdale
This play by Billy Elliot writer Lee Hall and based on real life events first opened in 2008 in Newcastle and has been a hit at the National Theatre, in New York and now begins a short residency in the West End.
Deservedly so, it really is a beautifully constructed piece that gently introduces you to a group of coal miners near Newcastle in the 1930s who are inspired by an evening class tutor to contrast their horrific working lives with amateur painting. The results are unexpectedly skilled and telling about their existence and they became celebrated as the Ashendon Group. This play then dramatizes the impact this has on them and analysis the significance of the phenomenon.
There are no great dramatic incidents, just a few confrontations and plenty of banter between the men but it remains gripping throughout and without ever feeling like a lecture gives you a real understanding of both the paintings and the social conditions that inspired them.
Although nothing is explicitly mentioned there’s a strong homoerotic charge between Ian Kelly as the teacher and the handsomely granite faced Trevor Fox as the painter who emerges as one of the most prodigious talents despite the appalling life he chooses to retain. His reasons for doing so are the fascinating conundrum at the heart of the play.
It’s all beautifully acted by the whole cast and simply staged on a bare set. If you’re looking for an intelligent, insightful night out you’ll find this exploration of male friendship and creativity very rewarding.
To book tickets see here
VERDICT: **** (Four Stars) A skillfully written and acted evening, poignant and funny. Highly reccomened.
Photo by Keith Pattinson