“The Pitmen Painters”
Director: Olena Avdeeva
Arabeska Theatre, Kharkiv
In her treatment of UK playwright Lee Hall’s “The Pitmen Painters”, emerging Kharkiv stage director Olena Avdeyeva consciously strips the play of any psychological underpinnings, resulting in a performance pared of historical feature and quotidian detail. The work offers a dramatic reconsideration of the Ashington Group, a cooperative of coal miners-cum-amateur painters formed in the 1930s in a small English industrial town. In her production, Avdeyeva sees the play as more than just the well-travelled story of the right of every social stratumto make art. Here, the urge to create is advanced as innate to the individual, more than a mere diversion from the physicality and grime of labour deep in the earth, an easel in exchangefor lungs filled with coal dust. Even the stage depiction of miners wrestling with their jackhammers recalls a deeply expressive dance, their fluid posing and gesturing imbued with deeper truths.
It is certainly no accident that the story achieves its dénouement in a scene where a miner/painter refuses to accept payment for a painting; to accept the wealthy collector’s offer would be more than just a betrayal of his social status, but of himself.
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