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The new "Billy Elliot"? Ian Kelly (centre) in "The Pitmen Painters" 

As a child of the North East, I'm likely to get teary-eyed at certain things which make most metro-southerners sneer. These include: Alex Glasgow singing The Tyne Slides By, any reference to the Lindisfarne Christmas concerts and of course Lee Hall, whose musical Billy Elliot is the best piece of modern drama about the tension between community loyalties and meritocracy.

Topping Billy was a tall order but in terms of impact and admiration, Hall pulled it off again with The Pitmen Painters, a hit in Newcastle, London's  National and Broadway, directed by Max Roberts of the North East's perky Live Theatre. Rave reviews have finally brought it to the Duchess in the West End. 

The Ashington group were real-life autodidacts, who in the dreary days of the mid-Thirties caught the eye of a rather prissy art teacher Robert Lyon (Ian Kelly), lured by the good works programme of the Workers' Education Association.

The relationship starts badly, with Lyon trying to interest the group in looking at Titian and Michelangelo and then sounding surprised that they've never seen the great masters. This being pit-bound Northumberland, it would take a particularly dim toff to imagine anything different — and it's the first sign of Hall bowing to class cliché. 

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