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The Pitmen Painters at TimeLine Theatre Company | Theater review

Lee Hall’s play argues art matters more for its emotion than its technique. TimeLine succeeds at both.

Photograph: Lara Goetsch
Dan Waller, left, with James Houton in The Pitmen Painters at TimeLine Theatre Company

Lee Hall’s The Pitmen Painters argues that art should be judged not on the strength of the artist’s technique, but on the emotional response it elicits in the observer. Set in mid-1930s England, Hall’s comedy follows a group of coal miners (and one dental mechanic) who learn to appreciate art by making it themselves. TimeLine’s production succeeds on both a technical and emotional level.

Under BJ Jones’s calm, precise direction, the cast delightfully captures the Ashington group’s confusion and excitement as it ventures into the artistic world. The pitmen develop a familial bond through their creative expression, and the ensemble’s chemistry creates an environment in which Hall’s rich characters flourish. Dialects are consistent and intuitive across the board, and the strength of the cast’s technique puts the focus on the emotional relationships of the characters rather than the practical skills of the actors.

As the pitmen’s teacher Robert Lyon, Andrew Carter gives a warm performance that brings genuine sincerity to his interactions with the students. Steven Pringle is a comedic standout as Jimmy Floyd, who doesn’t ever seem quite sure of what’s happening, but loves painting dogs and quaint still lifes. The production is anchored by an intense performance from Dan Waller as Oliver Kilbourn, beautifully capturing the character’s frustration and fear as he considers an artist’s life after years in the pits. The play may teach that art isn’t about talent, but TimeLine proves it certainly helps.

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