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Highly Acclaimed Play Dedicated to College Head of Art

25th September 2017

Newcastle & Stafford Colleges Group (NSCG) Head of Art, Mike Kelly was last week joined by students and colleagues to preview the critically acclaimed play ‘The Pitmen Painters’, dedicated to him by school friend and esteemed writer, Lee Hall, most famous for his radio play ‘Spoonface Steinberg’ and Oscar nominated screenplay ‘Billy Elliot’. 

The play, running until 7 October at the New Vic Theatre in Newcastle-under-Lyme is based on the true story of ‘The Ashington group’, a collective of pre-war, working class coal miners from the North East who took to the easel to create works of art that astonished the conservative elite of the time.  The group initially came together through an evening class and inadvertently went on to become celebrated artists who challenged stereotypes and exhibited their work both nationally and internationally.

Having enjoyed the opening night performance with over 20 current art students and staff from Newcastle-under-Lyme College (NULC), Mike commented:  “I originally became friends with Lee at Benfield Comprehensive School in Newcastle-upon-Tyne.  We shared a genuine excitement in learning as much as we could about art, literature and music and we were both first generation Degree students.  I went on to study Fine Art at university, specialising in Illustration, with my work featured in national magazines and newspapers, before embarking on a career as a lecturer and more recently, my current role of Group Head of Art, Design and Media at NSCG.  Lee, a writer, embarked on a quite different path, studying Literature at Cambridge, moving in to youth theatre work before making his big breakthrough with the screenplay ‘Billy Elliot’.”

Continued Mike: “After losing touch for a number of years, I regained contact with Lee through a close mutual friend.  I was surprised and honoured in 2006 to find that he had dedicated this play to me.  The play originally premiered at the Live Theatre in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 2007, before transferring to the National Theatre in London and Broadway in September 2010.  I was lucky enough to go to the opening night back in 2007, but it was great to see the play again locally and share the story with a number of current NULC students – the play has a highly political storyline, but is also warm and very funny.  It touches on the serious aspects of art, what paintings mean and how the creative process can change lives and aspirations.  It also conveys the importance of community, education and the role of the teacher, which for obvious reasons means a great deal to me.”

The Pitmen Painters continues at the New Vic until Saturday 7 October, with showings most evenings at 7.30pm and a Saturday matinee performance at 2.15pm.  Tickets cost between £14-£23.50 and can be purchased through the Theatre Box Office on 01782 717962.

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