“The Pitmen Painters” by “Billy Elliot” writer Lee Hall tells the powerful story of a group of miners who become acclaimed painters.
As their teacher and a wealthy arts patron try to pigeonhole them as “working-class painters,” the miners learn to stand up for themselves and their talent—raising big questions for the audience about class, what makes an artist, and what defines “outsider art.”
Set primarily in the mining town of Ashington in northeastern England, the show is based on the true story of The Ashington Group, made up of miners and other workers who began painting in the 1930s as part of an art appreciation class provided by the Worker’s Educational Association. This production is the Chicago premiere of the play, which has also been performed on Broadway and at London’s National Theater.
In the first act, the miners learn to express themselves through painting, gaining a sense of autonomy. The second act heats up as the miners become known for their paintings outside the town. Directed by Northlight Artistic Director and Evanston resident BJ Jones, Dan Waller is magnificent in the starring role of miner-painter Oliver Kilbourn, and Jordan Brown and the handsome Andrew Carter also deliver standout performances, as the “Young Lad” and the group’s teacher Robert Lyon, respectively.
The outsider art theme is brought home by exhibits of art by Chicago-area union members in the theater’s lobby and at the nearby Art De Triumph/Artful Framer Studios at 2938 Clark St.
The play runs through December 18. Tickets are available at timelinetheatre.com or 773-281-8463. Running time is two hours and 10 minutes, including a 10-minute intermission.