'The Hired Man' or 'Farmers march to war.'

'The Hired Man', Melvyn Bragg and Howard Goodall
Landor Theatre, Saturday 6th August 2011
Written For Time Out 


A legion of men boom out 'The War Song' as they stand stiff in a fading light, holding high an array of rifles and farming tools. It is just one of many moving moments in director Andrew Keates' robust revival of Melyvn Bragg's, 'The Hired Man'. Bragg's musical, written in 1984, covers the fields of North England, burrows deep into the mines and blasts through the battlefields of WWI. It is epic in scale and certainly doesn't scream pub musical but Keates' compact production fits beautifully inside The Landor Theatre.

We open at the turn of the twentieth century with 'Song of The Hired Man', an ode to a life of pastoral pursuit and a typically rousing number from composer Howard Goodall. There is something profoundly exhilarating about watching such a powerful ensemble piece up close. The small space transforms the group numbers into something much more personal and, rather than watching a group of farmers, we see instead a cluster of colourful individuals. When the time comes for these young men to be packed off to war, we feel their loss acutely.

Goodall is not a straight forward composer and, in the more exposed numbers, the singers occasionally slide off key. Joe Maxwell initially struggles with some complex opening songs but finds his range beautifully in the affecting lament, 'Blackrock'.

But it is as one that this impressive company speaks loudest and, as Goodall's thumping beats tear through the theatre, it's as if the stamping feet of the farmers are walking amongst us.