hired amn top

Matt Bond as John and Lee Fisher as Isaac with the ensemble. Pictures: Pamela Raith Photography

The Hired Man

Lichfield Garrick

****

THEATRE can be a powerful weapon. At its best it can bring laughter to the most humourless of souls, or bring tears to the stoniest of hearts, or, as here, it can be full of surprises.

Who in their right mind would take an amateur cast of more than 50, many of whom have never been on stage before and then put them in a musical unfamiliar to all but musical anoraks and with not one song people are likely to recognise.

Who indeed, so step forward Lichfield Garrick Artistic Director Tim Ford who wanted a piece for his vision of a Lichfield Garrick Community Musical, a chance for ordinary people to appear in a sort of people’s production in a professional theatre.

And he pulled it off with a show that was full of enthusiasm and showed no little talent. The musical is based on the first novel in Melvyn Bragg’s Cumbrian Trilogy with music and lyrics by Howard Goodall and provides a love story laced with social history chronicling the lives of recently sethmarried John and Emily Tallentire from the end of the 1890s to the 1920s, taking us through World War I.

We open with the annual hiring fair when men and women desperate for work negotiate wages with prospective employers.

Matt Bond as John has a powerful baritone voice which shows a gentle side when needed while Megan Daniels as a lovely voice as his wife Emily while Hattie Rumsey, another fine voice, and Adam Pritchard as their children May and Harry offer excellent support.

Lee Fisher as Jack the Lad Isaac and Joel Kirkpatrick as serious Seth the miner, are also convincing as John's brothers.

Then we have the Pennington farming family, with Richard Comfort as the father, who hires John, and his son Jackson, played with a confident air by Alan Rowe.

Joel Kirkpatrick as Seth, battling for union rights.

It is a love triangle between John, Emily and Jackson which leads to the first crisis in the village but that pales against the war with every family in the area losing someone, including the Penningtons and the Tallentire. It was going tobe over by Christmas . . . and it was; it’s just no one asked in which year.

And, the war over, life is still hard with tragedy never far away with pit disasters and battles for union recognition.

Goodall’s music is more opera or oratorio than musical, there are no standards, no songs that are going to be covered by stars, but they are interesting songs augmenting a fine narrative and the full cast choral numbers are quite superb, for which we can thank Musical Director Angharad Sanders who led an onstage eight-piece band.

A mention too for choreographer Felicity Kerwin, and director Tim Ford of course, for the ensemble work. With more than 40 people on stage at times it is not easy to make them look like a crowd rather than a mob yet they did it, with everyone animated whenever they were on stage and seemingly well drilled as to where they should be and what they should be doing.

Well planned by the creative team and well executed by the cast.

Designer John Brooking, a regular at the Garrick, always manages interesting sets and this one, on several levels to give us sitting rooms, coal faces, trenches, pubs, town squares and farms, is no exception, all well lit by Johnathan Martlew.

It is a big cast, a big ask and a big success. To 06-08-16

Roger Clarke

02-08-16 

Index page Lichfield Garrick  Reviews A-Z Reviews by Theatre