Ian Kelly: Teaching the Pitmen People to Paint the Town Red

PlayBlog   Ian Kelly: Teaching the Pitmen People to Paint the Town Red
The complete cast of eight in The Pitmen Painters ring up their collective Broadway debuts Sept. 30 when Lee Hall's biographical drama bows at the Samuel J. Friedman, but one of their number has toiled on this theatrical turf before — Off-Broadway.

That's enough for Ian Kelly to qualify as Hall's deputy tour-guide to point out pubs and other cultural institutes to the rest of the company.

"Mainly, we've been midtown — at the theatre, and on a tight leash," Kelly conceded, "but we did go on the Lee Hall Downtown Tour, especially designed by Mr. Billy Elliot, and around some other bits of Manhattan that Lee knew." (Hall wrote the Tony-winning book to Elton John's Billy Elliot, which also extracts some unexpected beauty from the coalmines of England's northeast.) "And since I've lived and worked here before, I've been trying to show people around the city as well."

Fittingly for a designated tour-guide, Kelly can be found at the front of the classroom, playing teacher — specifically and factually, Robert Lyon, an art instructor who opened up a world of self-expression for a group of Northern English coalminers in the mid-1930s.

"It's a true story and an extraordinary experiment, one of the singular experiments in how art was taught in England in the 20th century," the actor underlined. "After this very famous experiment, everything shifted. Robert Lyon came up with this kind of genius idea that actually you should teach the history of art through the practicality of doing it. He was quite a reputable artist, very friendly with Henry Moore and gave it all up to teach. As a result of his teaching, this particular group of miners and their work, briefly, became very celebrated in the art world themselves."

Kelly did two "Brits Off Broadway" seasons at 59E59 Theaters. Both one-man shows were "adaptations of some books I've written. Most recently, I played the title role in Beau Brummell. Before that, I did Cooking for Kings, which is a biography of Napoleon's chef. In that, I was playing Antonin Careme and cooking live on stage. This time, in The Pitmen Painters, I have to draw live on stage so New York, in my mind, is just always a ridiculous acting challenge for me. But, frankly, I think my art is somewhat better than my pastry ever was. I'm hoping…"

Film-wise, Kelly has snagged a role in the concluding two installments of the Harry Potter series — "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows." Part One will be released Nov. 19, 2010; Part Two, on July 15, 2011. He plays the father of Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) in both, and that casting came as a bit of a shock to him. "It's that sad moment in an actor's life where you find yourself the father of a grown-up woman. Unbelievable! How could this possibly have happened? But then again, Emma Watson is the face of Chanel so in that sense I'm, indirectly, terribly flattered."

— Harry Haun

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