The Hired Man

Book and lyrics by Melvyn Bragg, music by Howard Goodall
Exadus Theatre Company

A cast of eighteen, mainly ex-students of Ashby School in Leicestershire who are on performing arts courses throughout the country, form a strong ensemble in this celebration of the working men of Cumbria (and, by extension, of the UK) in the years surrounding the First World War. The performances are solid and there are some interesting creative ideas, such as the use of oblongs of material to be everything from aprons to working tools to babies.

While there is little to complain of in terms of the production and its values, the piece itself is a little too ambitious. As it tries to cram the entire life of a couple (including an extra-marital affair), the war, the love of the land, the work ethic, the growth of the union movement and more into an hour, inevitably there is little depth - imagine trying to condense Middlemarch into one hour onstage! - and we are left feeling that there is much that had been passed over too quickly.

And in a production which comes from a school, surely someone should have noticed the out-of-place apostrophe in the slide which reads "Pride has it's place"!

(Originally awarded 3½ stars.)

Reviewer: Peter Lathan

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