Saddleworth Players

Breathing passion, opportunity and desire into The Pitmen Painters

According to Wikipedia, a blog is a “…discrete, often informal diary style text entry.” Dear Lord, how dreadfully dull.

I have an aspiration, therefore, not to provide you with what the definition suggests, as the only thing in which I will succeed is to provide the reader with the most hellishly boring diatribe possible. I have many friends who are able to affirm that I need no further practice in demonstrating my skills in that area.

So, in an attempt to not appear hellishly boring … I am Martin Paul Roche, director of ‘The Pitmen Painters’ and for many audience goers, a stinky-new-boy to Millgate Arts Centre; my photo clearly illustrates that this is the only aspect of being ‘new’ with which I may claim an affinity.

I was for many years a performer but sloped off from the world of moobs and molars (‘tits and teeth’ but trying to be rather clever darlings) to dive headlong into the murky waters of writing for theatre and contentiously, the divisive world of being a Reviewer – which is a far more palatable title than ‘Critic.’ I am also a Drama Festival Adjudicator which usually causes a sharp intake of breath from performers, but in my defence, I have a very clear attitude towards theatre which I sincerely hope has been evident in our rehearsals for this piece and will be in the finished product. Anybody might attempt to be a critic, but it takes so much more to find the value, the worth, the joy in the doing and I am sure that is what we will illustrate for our audiences.

The arts and particularly the performing ones must be about being fun and having fun – for the observer and the player. To make that a reality, the company have managed to assemble a rich and diverse cast for this play. The cast, in turn, have been able to bring so much to the characters that they play and it has challenged them; vitally, they have breathed life, honesty and sincerity into them.

‘The Pitmen Painters’ could so easily just be a narrative, an interview about art appreciation set against a backdrop of class, status and social history: cue ‘hellishly boring.’

But to counter that, the writer Lee Hall, sets us a challenge to breathe, not just life, but passion, excitement, opportunity and a desire for a better world into the characters and their peers. Not a big ask then.

But the greater challenge is being honest to the piece and the people. This is a real story about real lives and albeit there is artistic license in the writing to make it theatrical, the implications, the significance of what these men achieved cannot be over emphasised. Working coal miners from a deprived community, struggling to exist following one world war and in the face of another and simply wanting to better themselves by studying art. And the consequence? Well, they did far more than personally appreciate it. They understood it, created it, and influenced a stuffy art establishment which, hitherto, was wholly inaccessible to them and their peers. Not only did they make art, but they were the basis for a whole new movement in British art which made it accessible to the working classes. And as one of the characters so aptly observes, it all happened because someone had the temerity to remove the tools of hard labour from their hands and replace them with a paint brush.

And what a brush that was.

In discovering art, they discovered themselves and created opportunity and an example for others that, irrespective of status or education, art should – must – be accessible to all. After all, when all the guns have gone silent, the legacy of a brush and a pencil will be an enduring testament to who and what we truly are and the better world we all want to be a part of, to create for the future. My sincere hope is that the paintings of The Ashington Group which will be seen throughout the play will effectively (and affectively) illustrate just that.

We are part way through rehearsals and I am already immensely proud of the effort the cast are putting in and I am certain the finished product will be both worthy and deserving of an audience. I do hope that you will be a part of it.

‘The Pitmen Painters’ will be performed by the Saddleworth Players at the Millgate Arts Centre, Delph, from Saturday 24th November until Saturday 1st December. Tickets £9 (£5 students) from our online booking site.

Martin Roche, Oct 30, 2018