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The Hired Man

“An uneven revival”

Periodically revived since its 1984 premiere, Melvyn Bragg’s bittersweet, bucolic drama about the tenacity of the working poor is a stirring but thoroughly sentimental show.

Here, a tight arrangement of Howard Goodall’s score riffs triumphantly on Vaughn Williams and Aaron Copland – all folksy fiddles and muted trumpets, soaring arpeggios and sweet, warbling high notes. It’s handled competently by an 11-strong actor-musician ensemble, who lug their instruments through a series of pleasingly hectic crowd scenes.

Director Douglas Rintoul gives it a brisk energy, which pushes through the first act’s overfamiliar love triangle plot, but feels jarringly abrupt in a second half in which the characters’ lives are repeatedly interrupted by history. Unions form, the First World War breaks out, and mines collapse – but it all happens too fast to really resonate.

Still, the leads do some good work with the well-drawn characters. Lauryn Redding is emotive as conflicted wife Emily, full of resentment and romantic notions that ultimately settle into habitual familiarity with her labourer husband John, played by a soft-spoken Oliver Hembrough. He lends this titular Hired Man a deep sensitivity, stoically working himself to death, but breaking into delicate song as he grapples with unspoken feelings. Meanwhile, Lara Lewis is a boisterous presence as their daughter May, her outspoken attitudes signalling a new era beginning to dawn.

Jean Chan’s bare, revolving stage rotates in front of a prettily painted backdrop of fells and fens, where washes of purple, grey, and russet light suggest the shifting colours of a Cumbrian sky.

Landmark revival for The Hired Man: the musical that refused to lay down and die

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Production Details
Production nameThe Hired Man
VenueQueen’s Theatre
StartsApril 27, 2019
EndsMay 18, 2019, then touring until June 15
Running time2hrs 30mins
ComposerHoward Goodall
Book writerMelvyn Bragg
LyricistHoward Goodall
DirectorDouglas Rintoul
Musical directorBen Goddard
Set designerJean Chan
Lighting designerPrema Metha
Sound designerChris Murray
CastJames William-Pattison, Jon Bonner, Lara Lewis, Lauryn Redding, Lloyd Gorman, Lucy Keirl, Oliver Hembrough, Samuel Martin, Sufia Manya, Tj Holmes, Tom Self
Company stage managerLauren Harvey
Stage managerChristina Leach, Sarah Jenkins
ProducerHull Truck Theatre, Oldham Coliseum Theatre, Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch
VerdictHoward Goodall and Melvyn Bragg’s protracted fanfare to the common man gets a stripped-down but uneven revival
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Dave Fargnoli

Dave Fargnoli

Dave Fargnoli

Dave Fargnoli

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