Thursday 22nd September 2016
I’ve been aware of Howard Goodall’s musical adaptation of The Hired Man, part of Melvyn Bragg’s Cumbrian Trilogy for around 20 years. It’s a work I’ve returned to over the years; it’s a musical I’ve never had the pleasure to see staged in any form and something that now I regret not devoting enough time to.
So when MD and Conductor Andrew Linnie mentioned that this version was in production I immediately knew I would be in attendance; even before tonight’s hugely talented cast had been announced.
The opening, Song of the Hired Men has long been a favourite and as soon I heard the opening notes I knew the audience were in safe hands for the evening. I’ve never seen Andrew musically direct and conduct before and I have to say he himself was fascinating to watch; dynamic, confident, responsive and obviously completely aware of the strengths of everyone on the stage.
The roles of Emily (Jenna Russell) and John Tallentire (John Owen – Jones) were beautifully sung. The stage direction by Samuel Hopkins serving not to detract from the score, lyrics and projections but to be a whole entity, enhancing and drawing the audience into the lives of the characters. There was no over sentimentality here; just a stark realisation of what life on the land and subsequently in the mines and at war was like.
The music itself is deeply evocative of the Cumbrian landscape with its mountains and valleys always reflected in the score. Emily’s unhappy yet often spirited resignation to what her life now holds and Jackson’s advances towards her whilst John is away are all swept along through the beautifully rich score.
Act two brings more of the same musical richness and carefully crafted lyrics with Seth’s (Stewart Clarke) political activism and the story being taken forward by May (Evelyn Hoskins) and Harry (James Moore). The troubling and fatal sounds of war were made visual by carefully crafted projections providing a backdrop that was emotionally moving.
The book reflects how family dynamics had to change due to events taking place through a swathe of time and it was good to see that the narration was still reflective of this in the concert version.
At the back of my mind throughout the evening and leading up to it was the question ‘How?’ The team behind this concert production have produced such a success in very limited rehearsal time alongside their other projects. They have designed programmes, flyered and publicised the event themselves and they are not yet known to be well known names in the industry. (I am convinced this will change though). Yet they managed to secure narration from the author himself, Melvyn Bragg and hugely successful performances from a stellar cast who could not be more suited to their roles. This is such ensemble piece that it is incredibly difficult to name any ensemble members as being stand out performers due to the very high standard of all involved; however I found Jessica Parkinson’s, Sally, to be a surprising and beautiful discovery and the soloists in Day Follows Day, another favourite from the show, were so well suited to the music.
An aconplished and proficiently directed orchestra and a backdrop of well crafted projections in a beautifully intimate venue made for an evening of pure enjoyment. The audience loved this production, the standing ovation was richly deserved and the only regret is that it was on for one night only.