Now regarded as a classic English musical, The Hired Man only lasted 164 performances on it’s original West End run in 1984. With unemployement and miners strikes at an all time high, West End audiences of the time seemed to prefer the glamerous escape offered by productions like 42nd Street and Starlight Express rather than gritty realism that Melvyn Bragg’s book had to offer.
Set in the rural area around Thurston, The Hired Man tells the story of John and Emily Tallentire. A young couple trying to find their way in a changing and challenging world.
Whilst this is a story of love and passion, it is also a story of the struggles of rural working families in Early 20th Century England. It’s also a story of the struggles of miners fighting for better conditions down in the pits. If that wasn’t enough the story also delves into the lives of a family torn apart by the horrors of the first world war. In it’s overambitious state to fit 20 years of story within two one-hour acts, the production at times feels a little rushed and left little time for us as an audience to truly connect to any one aspect of the plot.
Now don’t get me wrong, the story is nice enough, maybe at times missing emotional depth, but the true highlight of the show is without a doubt it’s music.
Whilst the original West End production may have consisted of 25 cast members, this new revival featurs 11 remarkably talented actor/ musicians who not only put their heart and soul into telling the story, but who also provided the “foot stomping rhythms” we were initially promised.
Whilst the story may seem at times complex and busy, the same could not be said for it’s staging. Audiences are offered an almost bare stage which beautifully reflects the simplicity of 1900’s England. Men are expected to find work on a farm or down in the pits until called upon to sign up to the war. Women are expected keep their homes nice and their husbands fed. It’s the story of an England we’re all familiar with, and yet this staging offers a raw and honest look into the idea of surviving with nothing but the bare essentials.
Yes the plot may have at times lacked depth, but this production offers an enjoyable evening and brilliantly catchy score which you’ll be humming all the way home.
The Hired Man runs at Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch till 18th May. For more information or to book tickets head to the official Queen’s Theatre website.
The following this run the production will tour to Hull Truck Theatre and Oldham Coliseum Theatre.
Review Date: 04/05/2019
Cast: Jon Bonner, Lloyd Gorman, Oliver Hembrough, TJ Holmes, Lucy Keirl, Lara Lewis, Sufia Manya, Samuel Martin, Lauryn Redding, Tom Self and James WIlliam-Pattison.
Images courtesy of Mark Sepple.