THE HIRED MAN
St James Theatre, London
Book by Melvyn Bragg
Music and lyrics by Howard Goodall
CAST OF CHARACTERS
JOHN TALLENTIRE - Dominic Harrison
EMILY TALLENTIRE - Amara Okereke
SETH TALLENTIRE (Euphonium) - Will Sharma
ISAAC TALLENTIRE - Jacques Miché
JACKSON PENNINGTON (Violin/Viola) - Joe Eaton-Kent FATHER PENNINGTON/CHAIRMAN - Freddie Tapner
MAY TALLENTIRE (Clarinet/Percussion) - Naomi Morris
HARRY TALLENTIRE - Charlie Callaghan
SALLY WRANGHAM NÉE EDMONSON - Daisy Addison
TED BLACKLOCK - Tom Robinson
JOE SHARP - Billy Nevers
JOSH - Cameron Burt
BOB - Sario Watanabe-Solomon
RECRUITING OFFICER - Guy Harvey
SOLDIER - Harry Al-Adwani
VICAR - Jayden Booroff
LABOURER - Tim Mahendran
LABOURER - Caroline Whittingham
JIM - Jonathan Hermosa-Lopez
TOM - Fergus Dale
PUB LANDLADY (Guitar) - Gloria Obianyo
DAN (Guitar) - Josh Redding
ALF (Violin) - Tom Goodwin
LILY - Alissimon Minnitt
PATRICK - Brian Murray
BILL (Trumpet/Flugelhorn) - Matthew Payne
BETH (Violin) - Imogen Parry
ANNA (Cello) - Emma Farmer
SAMUEL (Double Bass) - Kome Eleyae
GIRL - Sissy Ford
BOY - Frankie Bounds
SETH’S WHIPPET - Jarvis
Farmers, miners, landowners & soldiers all played by members of the company.
Director - Nikolai Foster
Designer - Matthew Wright
Musical Director/Orchestrator - Sarah Travis
Choreographer - Nick WInston
Lighting Designer - Ben Cracknell
Sound Designer - Tom Marshall
Assistant Director - Jordan Murphy
Assistant Musical Director - Charlie Ingles
Lighting Programmer - Chris Winn
Production Electrician - Jack Champion
Production Sound Engineer - Mike Sumner
Sound #1 - Ashley Gadd
Sound #2 - Tom Pickering
Wardrobe Supervisor - Debbie Bennett
Assistant Wardrobe Supervisor - Fiona Lockton
Wardrobe Assistant - Hannah Thomas
Stage Manager - Elaine Yeung
Deputy Stage Manager - Oliver Burton
Assistant Stage Manager - George Pearce
Follow Spot Operator / ASM - Charles Vaughan
Follow Spot Operator - Alexander Smith
Stage Crew Coach - Ian Wilson
Dialect Coach - Elspeth Morrison
Scenic Construction and Artwork - Belgrade Production Services
Stage Weaponry - Howarth Wrightson Ltd
Head Chaperone - Simon Woolley
Pastoral Staff - Rebecca Hazel, Alice Hardy, Ben Simpson, David Grant Photographer - Konrad Bartelski
Publicity and Programme Design - Richard Blackburn
Press Representation - Marika Player for Target Live, 45 Whitfield St, W1T 4HD NYMT Administrator - Alice Hardy
Production Assistant - Ben Simpson
Associate Production Manager - Noel Smith
Production Manager - James Henshaw
Producer - Jeremy Walker for NYMT
This production was supported by
THE EL BISHLAWI FAMILY WHITE LIGHT LTD
STAGE SOUND SERVICES.
THE HIRED MAN | a note from Howard Goodall, CBE
In a year of, I cannot think of a more perfect synergy than for NYMT to be performing The Hired Man this week in August. The most obvious resonance is with the start of the colossal tragedy of the Great War in this month exactly one hundred years ago, a catastrophe that impacted on every family, village and town in Britain, captured - I hope honestly and movingly - in the second act of this musical. At the St Symphorien military war cemetery near Mons last week for an Anglo-German commemoration of the anniversary, I was struck once again by the shocking youth of the slain - the first British casualty in that conflict, laid to rest at St Symphorien, thought to be 17 (though, like Harry Tallentire, there were surely others who were younger still but who gave deliberately inaccurate dates of birth to ensure they were involved). Those lives cut so horribly short had reached the same point as the young performers you see today on stage. Seeing school students play these parts is a frightening reminder of this fact. But The Hired Man celebrates the spirit of a community that endured (and also enjoyed) much else besides that terrible, industrialised war, spanning as it does a quarter-century of struggle and fortitude. As a piece of musical theatre it also marks its 30th birthday this year; I was barely older than NYMT's leading actors myself when I began writing its music and lyrics in the months and years leading up to February (its very first opening production at the Nuffield Theatre Southampton) and July 1984 (its subsequent, significantly revised version that you see tonight and which transferred to the West End three months later). In later years I was to collaborate with Charles Hart on two highly-successful commissions for NYMT, the dreaming and The Kissing-Dance, so it is doubly appropriate that it should be NYMT that chose to produce The Hired Man at so great a milestone in its own journey, a decision for which I am hugely grateful. Between 1984 and today I have only added one new song to the score (in 2006, for a revival at the Salisbury Playhouse), Day follows day. In it, the women of Crossbridge village sing the following, hauntingly topical words, sentiments that could have been echoed by an entire generation of our courageous fore-bearers: "Day follows day, and tomorrow we will talk of today - when we thought we saw the ghosts of our lost sons: Was that them on Lorton Vale, their bellies full of jokes and ale, returned at last from Passchendaele, Come home to stay?..."
Howard Goodall, CBE
Reviewer: Mark Shenton
NYMT’s The Hired Man is poignantly timely
Just recently I was writing how I’d seen three consecutive musical gems in London with three American musicals, but that week wasn’t over yet. By the time it was over, I had seen one more American show – flawed in the writing but flawless in its execution – and then a true British musical theatre masterpiece that has earned its place in the theatrical canon already, but this year has gained an extra heartbreaking resonance.
Both are history shows of sorts, chronicling great society upheavals. The American musical is Ahrens and Flaherty’s Dessa Rose, currently being given its British premiere in a beautifully accomplished and intensely moving production at Trafalgar Studios 2...
...I followed seeing Dessa Rose with a brand new production of The Hired Man that was directed by Nikolai Foster for the National Youth Music Theatre at the St James Theatre, with a quite exceptional cast of young actors aged 13 to 23.
I’ve long felt that this musical is easily the best British-created musical of the last thirty years (and yes, I include The Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables), and it never fails to resonate. This year, more than ever, that is true. As composer Howard Goodall puts it in a programme note:
In a year of poignant anniversaries, I cannot think of a more perfect synergy than for NYMT to be performing The Hired Man this week in August. The most obvious resonance is with the start of the colossal tragedy of the Great War in this month exactly one hundred years ago, a catastrophe that impacted on every family, village and town in Britain, captured – I hope honestly and movingly – in the second act of this musical.
He’s absolutely right. The show is its own deeply poignant reminder of how the war impacts on one small Cumbrian community, and cuts deep. With Goodall’s gorgeous melodies, incredibly rendered by a cast of actor-musicians under the expert musical direction of Sarah Travis that leads with strings, I spent most of the second act in a puddle of tears.
And that’s also partly due to the youth of the performers playing it. As Goodall goes on to remark in his programme note,
At the St Symphorien military war cemetery near Mons last week for an Anglo-German commemoration of the anniversary, I was struck once again by the shocking youth of the slain - the first British casualty in that conflict, laid to rest at St Symphorien, thought to be 17 (though, like Harry Tallentire, there were surely others who were younger still but who gave deliberately inaccurate dates of birth to ensure they were involved). Those lives, cut so horribly short had reached the same point as the young performers you see today on stage. Seeing school students play these parts in a frightening reminder of this fact.
The Public Reviews
Reviewer: Glen Pearce
There are moments when history and theatre collide to create a moment of intense resonance. Howard Goodall’s The Hired Man covers an epic sweep of Cumbrian history but, in this Centenary year of the outbreak of the First World War, this National Youth Music Theatre’s revival tugs at the heartstrings. Here we have a cast of hugely capable young performers remembering a generation torn apart by the horrors of 1914-18.
This isn’t however a musical of the war, Goodall’s adaptation of Melvyn Bragg’s semi biographical novel captures a lost generation and community – its epic sweep capturing the hardship yet hope-filled community of agricultural Cumbria at the turn of the last century.
Capturing the choral tradition of the locale, Goodall’s score weaves the intimate with the epic, a challenging score but one delivered with skill by the National Youth Music Theatre.
Nikolai Foster’s production makes no concession to the youthfulness of the cast; 31 performers aged 11 – 23, instead embracing their energy and authenticity of a community that would have been equally as youthful. This was an immense period of change, a generation beginning to question their downtrodden existence, a generation on the verge of great potential but a generation decimated by the horror of war.
In an age when farm labourers were a commodity to be haggled over at hiring fairs, John Tallentire has high hopes for his young family. Married young, life is tough for John and wife Emily but their love stands strong thorough all challenges thrown at them. This not a fairy- tale rose tinted relationship, affairs and arguments mark their passage through a quarter of a century.
Seventeen year olds Dominic Harrison as John and Amara Okereke as Emily centre the piece with mesmerising performances. Both sing powerfully but imbibe their performances with intense emotion. Their duet No Choir of Angels perfectly captures a lifetime of highs and lows. There’s also a striking performance from eighteen year old Joe Eaton-Kent as Jackson, whose affair with Emily haunts her entire life. There’s a sly cockiness to Eaton-Kent’s performance, countered by his haunting violin playing. Indeed, Sarah Travis’ musical direction returns to her heritage, incorporating a number of actor-musicians into the cast. It gives the piece further community authenticity, reminiscent of village, infantry and pit bands of the area.
Matthew Wright’s set of cobblestones and rolling dales, sculptured evocatively in light by Ben Cracknell, allows the company to move swiftly across the decades with Nick Winston’s gusty, earthy choreography.
The aforementioned historical convergence comes to the fore in act two as the young men of the village head off to war, a generation of similar age to those in the cast. As the young men sing in the trenches and face us to tell us of the horror and futility of war it is impossible not to be moved. With the haunting Day After Day, with its ghosts of Passchendaele reference, this is a fitting memorial to a fallen generation.
The Hired Man is becoming something of a rediscovered classic. Productions by the Mercury Theatre Colchester last year and a forthcoming production at the Union Theatre show that, in the 30th anniversary since it was first staged, there is a growing recognition that this could be our country’s greatest chamber musical.
This National Youth Music Theatre production though is one that will live long in the memory and the heart. Much like the generation portrayed there is great potential for this company of talented performers and this is a fitting tribute to both their skill and to that lost generation of a century ago.
Jonathan Baz Reviews
Reviewer: Jonathan Baz
The programme notes for this production written by Howard Goodall himself, speak of the poignant significance of The Hired Man being staged in 2014, the centenary of the Great War. Goodall references the youthful age of the soldiers slaughtered in that infernal conflict, bringing a haunting resonance to bear upon this powerful interpretation of the show, produced by NYMT with a predominantly teenage cast.
The tale spans a thirty year stretch of English history, betwixt the 19th and 20th centuries and follows John Tallentire, the titular hired man and his journey through the economic evolution of his beloved Cumbrian fells. We see John shift from being a skilled ploughman, to an oppressed life below ground in a coal mine. The demands of industry are replacing the more traditional rural lifestyles whilst against this backdrop, wife Emily falls into an adulterous affair with Jackson Pennington the dashing son of the local landowner and the First World War looms, ultimately to devastate the Tallentire family and the wider community.
Goodall and Bragg created an ingenious piece of theatre with The Hired Man. The first act is intimate, focussed upon John, his family and Emily’s extra-marital desires, before the second act widens the musical’s scope exponentially, addressing the march of industry, the rise of the trade union movement and the brutality of the War.
Under Nikolai Foster’s generally perceptive eye Dominic Harrison does well as John, carrying the burden of the narrative through his performance. It’s not easy for any teenage boy to play a cuckold, though Harrison rises to the challenge with a creditable performance as a good, if wronged man. Opposite him Amara Okereke, Maria in NYMT’s 2013 West Side Story is Emily, reprising her exquisite vocal work, combined with immaculate nuance, to create her complex character. A Yorkshire lass, Okereke’s natural northern brogue suits the play’s geography perfectly. The cast of thirty are at their best in Nick Winston’s splendidly choreographed numbers, none better than the multi-part harmonies that close each act, thrilling with the fusion of melody, lyrics and a stage full of young people in perfect synchronicity.
An actor-muso production, many of the company are all the more remarkable for mastering their instrument on stage as well as acting. Joe Eaton-Kent’s exquisite work on violin/viola more than matches his work as Jackson Pennington, whilst amongst the (many) unsung gems of this cast Gloria Obianyo’s guitar playing adds a folksy contemporary touch to the sound not commonly heard. The credit for this innovative musical impact with musical director Sarah Travis. Re-arranging numbers to accommodate the actor-muso transition it turns out that much like adding mineral water to a fine scotch malt, so has Travis taken Goodall’s score and opened it up, releasing hitherto hidden yet beautiful complexities. These revelations are particularly highlighted in act one’s Fill It To The Top and in the second half’s haunting post-war elegy, Day Follows Day.
Farewell Song, sung by the entire company immediately before the young men leave to face the terrors of France, remains one of the most moving songs in the musical theatre canon, its words depicting the anguish of such painful partings. As Goodall’s exquisite key changes pluck at our heart strings, if ever a song were to merit inclusion in November’s annual Festival of Remembrance it is this one.
Ben Cracknell’s stark lighting work cleverly depicts the shifts in the story’s time and location, whilst Matthew Wright’s flag-stoned stage perfectly anchors the show’s era. Notably absent from the production team is a hair and make-up professional. This is an unfortunate omission as the show’s final scenes, of Emily and John in more senior years, demand a more visible change in appearances to mark the passing of time and would have assisted the young actors in portraying their parents’ generation more convincingly.
But bravo to NYMT and the inspirational vision of producer Jeremy Walker. Yet again, in an incredibly short space of time and coached by some of the industry’s finest creatives, talented young amateurs have gone on to realise theatrical excellence on a commercial stage.
There Ought To Be Clowns
Reviewer: Ian Foster
"What would you say to your son?"
Howard Goodall’s The Hired Man probably has to be one of my favourite musicals, British or otherwise, so going to see any production of it is something of a no-brainer, especially in a year that marks the centenary of the beginning of the First World War that plays such a strong part here. But performed by the National Youth Music Theatre of Great Britain, this one has the added bonus of featuring people who we are bound to be seeing on our stages for years to come, emerging as an astonishingly accomplished piece of work, not least in the lead performances of Amara Okereke and Dominic Harrison.
Bolstering the sterling efforts of the cast though is some superb creative work under Nikolai Foster’s hands. Matthew Wright’s design really opens up the stage most effectively, allowing for his beautiful set to evoke the unforgiving terrain of the turn-of-the-century English countryside; Nick Winston’s choreography reflects a similar muscularity that felt utterly true; and Sarah Travis’ musical direction is just inspired, marshalling the voices of her 30+-strong company to spine-tingling effect and also employing actor-musicianship to add real texture to the music.
Harrison and Okereke plays John and Emily Tallentire, a pragmatic young couple whose marriage is tested from the beginning by the scarcity of decent work and the social upheaval of the time, culminating in the outbreak of the First World War which marks their family as it did so many countless others. They both sound gorgeous but more importantly really embraced the dramatic heft needed to pull off the roles as time passes by. Naomi Morris and Charlie Callaghan as their children May and Harry completed a strong family unit.
But strong performances abound across the company: Joe Eaton-Kent as flirtatious farmer Jackson, Jacques Miché and Will Sharma as John’s brothers Isaac and Seth, Daisy Addison as strident best friend Sally Wrangham…it is hard not to be severely impressed with this current cohort and feel extraordinarily pleased both at what they have achieved here and also what they might go on to do in the future.
Musical Theatre Review
Reviewer: Derek Smith
Timed perfectly to mark the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War, this National Youth Music Theatre (NYMT) production is a moving and fitting tribute to the men that died in the so-called ‘war to end all wars’. It also proves to be a mightily impressive reminder of the superb young musical and acting talent that exists in this country.
Melvyn Bragg and Howard Goodall’s work is celebrating its 30th birthday this year, and his work has lost none of its resonance – it’s still one of most stirring scores and moving storylines created. When you see one of the cast wearing braces in their teeth, you suddenly realise just how very young this cast is, and while initially a leap of imagination is certainly required to see the male cast as hardened, life- weary working-class adult males, it’s quite something to see them all visibly grow in stature.
There are initially a few nervous moments, that’s only to be expected, but it’s so impressive to see the whole cast’s confidence increases with every note and every line sung. In fact, the opening rousing ‘Song of the Hired Men’, then ‘Fill It to the Top’, make for one of the most stirring opening ten minutes of any musical I’ve seen, and the company’s sheer physicality and obvious passion is quite something to witness in the compact and perfectly suited St James Theatre.
Add to that, the performances of Dominic Harrison (17) as John Tallentire and Amara Okereke (17) as Emily Tallentire are absolutely faultless. Jacques Miché (18) as Isaac Tallentire and Will Sharma, just 16, who plays Seth Tallentire with amazing maturity, also put in fine performances, while the impressively bubbly Naomi Morris as May Tallentire is proof that stroppy teenagers have always existed. It helps this production’s score massively that Okereke has a voice that breaks your heart, moving some audience members visibly to tears, while Harrison’s gritty, macho and moving portrayal of a man put through hell on the Western Front and not much better on the Home Front is utterly convincing, constantly leading and driving this cast from the front.
Also top drawer is the performance of Joe Eaton-Kent (18) as Jackson Pennington (plus violin/viola) who woos Emily and wins her over while John is away. He has an air of arrogance and refinement that sets him apart from many of the other men, and unsurprisingly the local women have got plans for him, not least Sally Wrangham, played delightfully by Daisy Addison (18), another fine singer within the cast. When this production is bitter, it is very bitter, as when the very young son, Harry Tallentire (Charlie Callaghan – 14), dies in the trenches; but when it is sweet, it is sublimely so.
Among the ‘could hear a pin drop’ musical numbers are ‘I Wouldn’t Be The First’ (Emily and Jackson) and ‘Fade Away’ (Emily and John), while in Act II, the female company sings ‘Day Follows Day’ quite beautifully, a very touching respite from all anger and bitterness that has gone before.
This is a remarkably polished and confident production from director Nikolai Foster and from such a young cast – even Seth Tallentire’s whippet, played by Jarvis, took his brief, cameo role in his four-legged stride. It’s a real pity only six performances are planned. I’m guessing Jarvis has other work lined up – I’m sure most of this talented cast has.