Saturday, October 30, 2010


I'm writing this Friday evening, because we leave via Amtrak for Washington DC early tomorrow morning, Saturday, and I will not have time to make an entry, probably, before Sunday. The Rally to Restore Sanity is scheduled to start at 12 noon, and we'll hardly have time to drop off our bags at our friend's house before heading back to the Mall. I'm "fired up," as Obama likes to say.

I did not have time, after my long entry on the Chelsea galleries, to mention our evening's theater outing. Briefly, then...

It was a strange feeling to be sitting in a New York theater in 2010 and to be taken back to the precise place (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England) and time (mid-1930s) of my birth. My father was at the time the vicar of St. Cuthbert's Church, and his parishioners were mostly miners and their families, and all Geordies (Tynesiders.) I'm inordinately proud of being a Geordie, even though I spent only the first year and a half of my life there; and no one could possibly tell my origin by my accent (mid-way across the Atlantic.)

The play that took me back all those years was Lee Hall's The Pitmen Painters...

... the story of the Ashington Group, a small company of proud Geordie miners who took to painting under the tutelage of one Robert Lyon, a pit of a toff and an art historian and painter, and ended up wowing the pre- and post-war art establishment with their raw realism. The play is about their struggle with identity, masculinity and, particularly, class, at a time when England was more strictly divided than it is today.

It's also about art--about the clash between realism and abstraction, about the social responsibility of the artist, about what, and how art "means." Needless to say, there's a lot of talk and the talk--even though the Geordie accents are somewhat attenuated for an audience which otherwise would not understand a word!--is sometimes hard to follow. The ear--and the mind--tend to tire towards the end, and I myself longed for a little more action that I was allowed. Still the often heated exchanges were a lot of fun, the passions ran high, and the conflicts were real and touching. And I was glad, for a couple of hours, to be taken "back home" to Northumberland and reminded of the grand, unquenchable spirit of those who spent their lives down in the mines.

No comments: