Michael Morpurgo, adapted by Daniel Buckroyd
New Perspectives Theatre Company and Scamp Theatre
Corn Exchange, Newbury, and touring
Review by Robin Strapp
Farm Boy is the sequel to the National Theatre's highly successful production of War Horse, currently playing at the New London. This is a delightful story set in Devon where tractors have replaced horses and the stage is dominated by a full size 1920's Fordson tractor, beautifully built by Tim Brierley and Susan Winter.
The play explores the relationships between grandfather and grandson played by John Walters and Matt Powel who gave sensitive and exuberant performances in this captivating story, full of compassion and inventiveness.
Grandson is spending his holidays at the farm where his grandfather relates the stories of his childhood. He never complains about his lot in life or the loss of his wife and just loves to remember his beloved swallows and his life with his own father together with the horses, Joey and Zoey. We learn of Joey being sold to the army for £40 and his adventures in the horrors of World War 1.
Life on the farm was tough, especially with the introduction of the tractor that can plough a field much faster than the traditional horse and plough. Neighbouring farmer, Harry Metcot challenges great-grandfather to a ploughing competition, horses pitted against the Fordson tractor with a large wager for the winner.
It appears to be an impossible challenge but lady luck plays an important part as the tractor breaks down. But with the determination and sheer grit of great-grandfather and the horses they triumph in what was a most moving and poignant scene that was a perfect contrast to the May Day celebrations and the fun of chicken chasing.
Joey and Zoey are finally retired and never had to pull a plough again since great-grandad is now the proud owner of the tractor.
The play moves forward to the present day where grandad reveals a secret; he has never been able to read and write, and he asks his grandson to stay on the farm and teach him before he sets off on his travels to Australia. Grandad is determined to read an Agatha Christie novel from beginning to end by the New Year, which he triumphantly achieves.
Grandson has his gap time in Australia and completes his university course before returning to the farm, eventually to take over the running of it much to grandfather's delight.
This was an enchanting picture of rural England told through three generations owing much to the masterful storytelling skills of Powell and Walters who had a magical empathy between each other and a superb rapport with the audience. A sheer joy to watch.
Deftly directed by Daniel Buckroyd with a spirited score by Matt Marks, Farm Boy is a most moving production thoroughly enjoyed by the youngsters and indeed the 'not so young' in the audience.