The Hired Man
While a pre-first world war Cumbrian mining community may not be obvious hit musical material, The Hired Man has been consistently acclaimed since its debut over 20 years ago. A collaboration between composer Howard Goodall and Melvyn Bragg - who adapted his own novel - this Threshold Theatre Group production is faithful to their stirring vision.
After John Tallentire (Joe Ringer) is hired as a farm labourer by the father of Jackson Pennington (Mark Bird), passions flare and loyalties are tested as personal and global clashes threaten John's relationship with wife Emily (Katie Wicks). Spanning two decades and encompassing the horror of the trenches, the emerging trade unions and the erosion of rural traditions, the plot combines a brisk narrative with poignant, Hardy-like touches. Barring a few first-night hiccups, the three leads rose to the challenge of the songs' often demanding vocal lines. Joe Ringer was particularly impressive, his purity of tone expressing the genial simplicity of Tallentire's character while retaining a passionate intensity. Indeed, this latter quality shone through the music as a whole, the folk-inflected melodies and rousing choruses evoking the unacknowledged heroism of ordinary lives. The Hired Man has been described as a 'great lost British musical.' On this showing, it is well worth re-discovering.