by Lynn on February 18, 2012

in The Passionate Playgoer

The following reviews were broadcast on Friday, February 17/12. CIUT FRIDAY MORNING, 89.5 FM CIUT. POTTED POTTER at the Panasonic Theatre. THE PITMAN PAINTERS at Theatre Aquarius in Hamilton, Ont. Until February 25.

The host is Rose Palmieri.

1) Good Friday morning. Lynn Slotkin, our theatre critic and passionate playgoer is here with two reviews.

Hi Lynn.

What do you have for us today?


2) You didn’t pick them because of the alliteration, did you?

Just a coincidence—but when I started writing about them I did see that preponderance of Ps in the titles.

3) Is there anything else that connects them?

Not really, except that they might be both based on books. POTTED POTTER deals with the seven Harry Potter books.

THE PITMAN PAINTERS is inspired by a book by William Fever.

But they are so far and away different from each other that I can’t say there is anything similar except that they both take place in a theatre.

4) Ok let’s start with POTTED POTTER. How does the show deal with the seven books?

First of all the show is a bit of a phenomenon. It has played to great acclaim in England, Australia and now North America. Before the show opened here it was held over.

Ok what’s it about? Well, it’s about 70 minutes. In that frantic seventy minutes, Daniel Clarkson and Jefferson Turner tell the stories of all seven Harry Potter books complete with props, hogwart wannabees, and audience participation.

Actually Jeff is the expert in Harry Potter books and takes his task seriously. He is constantly re-reading the books.

Daniel Clarkson is the joker. He mixes Harry Potter up with the Narnia books and perhaps Alice in Wonderland.

But before the show starts he’s out in the audience chatting up the folks, shaking hands, making contact. He lays the ground rules and is probably the one to send up Jeff and make fun of something.

They also divide the audience in half so that both halves play a game of Quidditch. There’s a lot of mugging, seemingly adlibbing, audience participation and two people are hauled onto the stage to participate—actually they volunteer.

This is the kind of show where people are happy to volunteer.

5) I guess the most important question is do you have to have read the Harry Potter books to appreciate the show?

Good question. I bought all 7 books but haven’t read any of the, nor have I seen any of the movies. I know that Harry is this kid who wants to be a wizard and went to school to learn. Lots of British movie stars starred in the movies. But that’s all I know. I went to see if in fact I could get the gist of the stories of the books.

6) And could you?

Barely. But I think the point is that since the whole world was reading those books or saw the movies, then people who went to the show would basically know the stories.

Also, the fact that it’s billed as “The Unauthorized experience—a Parody by Dan and Jeff” then the audience would be up for a romp. It has the pace and tone of a frat house party. People—Dan and Jeff –acting goofy, prat falls burp jokes, lots of shouting, fake enthusiasm, going off on tangents.

At times I thought that even 70 minutes seemed too long for this and that the silliness took the place of truly actually telling the story of the seven books. The audience was young 20 somethings. It’s a good date show.

Daniel Clarkson is tall, lanky and the more animated of the two. He tends to rev up audience to mayhem. Jefferson Turner is the more serious one, often sounding off in frustration to Dan, but there is good camaraderie between the two of them. Well yeah, they did write the show together.

I think this show is an acquired taste for me. But there definitely is an audience for it.

7) Did the show make you want to read the books?

Maybe…I should give it a try one of these days.

8) And tell us about THE PITMAN PAINTERS.

I went to Hamilton to see it at Theatre Aquarius. It’s a wonderful play written by Lee Hall who wrote the film and the book of BILLY ELLIOT.

THE PITMAN PAINTERS is about a group of coalminers in England, Newcastle, to be exact who took up painting and became noted for it in the 1940s.

In the play these miners wanted to improve themselves. There was a fund that could be used for various courses. All that was available was a course on art appreciation. They had no background in it at all.

The instructor began talking about styles and genres—went completely over their heads. So he got them to paint what they knew—their village, their work—down the mines. And then they discussed it amongst themselves. How the painting made them feel; that art should make you feel something. As time went on their paintings got better. They had a real facility for it.

Their conversations about art got deeper and more philosophical. They became famous. Had exhibitions.
Even sold some of their work. It gave them a sense, a hope of a better life.

I found the play and their story astonishing.

9) How so?

Because most of these men began working in the mines when they were 11 years old. They got up in the middle of the night when it was dark to go to work. They worked in horrible conditions down the mines in the dark. They came home in the dark. And yet they painted with colour. And for untrained painters you do get a sense of their lives in their village, at home, in the mines and the back-breaking conditions. And that they produced paintings that are now postcards is an astonishing accomplishment. I found their story so inspiring, so full of tenacity and ultimately hopeful.

10) And how was the Hamilton production?

Just terrific. I had heard from friends who saw it to rush to see it and I urge people to do the same. I think Theatre Aquarius does a fine job of bringing theatre to the city with top actors usually from the Shaw Festival.

And this production of THE PITMAN PAINTERS is terrific. I found it beautifully acted by the company, moving, funny, thoughtful and even transporting. The men are no-nonsense. They wear suits and ties for their meetings—the miners would only have work clothes and their Sunday best—these meetings called for their Sunday best.

As George Brown, the leader of the group, Nigel Bennett is all bluster and propriety, even stodgy.

As Oliver Kilbourn, the most gifted painter of the group, Michael Spencer Davis conveys the wonderful awaken of how art can change a life for the better.

And as Helen Sutherland, a rich patron of the arts, Sharry Flett is both dignified and gracious to these men.

In one hilarious scene they all look at a painting Mrs. Sutherland bought. It’s a brown curved line on a white painted canvas. She paid a lot of money for it. The men laugh because they think it’s rubbish. But she makes them look harder at it. She never laughs at them. She is always accommodating and never condescending. It’s a lovely performance, as are they all.

It’s directed with great detail and care by Ron Ulrich who just makes the whole production vibrant with life and heart.

Loved it.

Thanks Lynn. You can read Lynn’s blog at

>POTTED POTTER plays at the Panasonic Theatre.
Presented by Mirvish Productions.

THE PITMAN PAINTERS plays until Feb. 25 at Theatre Aquarius in Hamilton. Box Office: 905-522-7529

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