Based on the Melvyn Bragg play The Hired Man, it tells of northern working class life in bleak Cumbria in the early twentieth and the musical adaptation then followed with music and lyrics by Howard Goodall.
On entering the auditorium we were presented with a large tilted revolve and a gauze featuring a stark Cumbrian backdrop – this was the perfect setting for this gritty and powerful piece of musical theatre. Add in the dramatic and atmospheric lighting and the setting was complete.
The cast of actor/musicians not only portrayed a range of characters but also played a variety of instruments making this a feast of talent starting with the opening number which was particularly strong and I loved the way the cast used their musical instruments as props, portraying the tools of the land.
There were some strong individual performances throughout the production.
Oliver Hembrough as John brought some great depth to the role and opposite him as Emily was Lauryn Redding who had such strength in her performance. Her acting throughout the piece was a joy to watch and very poignant.
Lloyd Gorman as Jackson was the third point in the love triangle and a later the surprise hero. This was a very detailed performance and quite charismatic.
I loved the camaraderie between John and his brothers played by Samuel Martin as Isaac and TJ Holmes as Seth and Seth’s whippet cleverly portrayed by TJ’s Cello.
Jon Bonner played a number of characters: Pennington, Blacklock, The Recruiting Officer and the Vicar. Each character was very different to the other and throughout he was a strong pivot point for the entire production.
While Act One felt a little slow and I found the folk inspired music sometimes a little repetitive, Act Two was a completely different story. For me Act two had a very personal connection as my family were a mining family in South Yorkshire and of course the outbreak and subsequent storyline associated WW1 was as you would expect particularly moving.
Lara Lewis as May was delightful. She was fresh and bright with a charming singing voice and James William-Pattison as Harry was equally engaging.
All the cast brought great enthusiasm and huge empathy to characters and the story line.
This was a powerful production and one which delivered many layers, on many levels.