I'd never seen The Hired Man before, possibly because, as its director Martin Beaumont told me afterwards, it's not staged as often as most other musical classics. That in itself made it quite a treat, but even if you've seen this play a hundred times, you won't have experienced one quite like Hessle Theatre's production.
Opening in Cumbria in 1898, we're introduced to a village of sturdy folk who work hard, play hard, and then work hard to find more work. With half the population labouring on the land and the other half below it, The Hired Man immediately gives a glimpse into the impoverished lives of these honest labourers, particularly that of newlyweds John and Emily Tallentire.
The narrative progresses quickly and smoothly, showing poor John and Emily no pity as their simple lot is swiftly filled with the demands of parenthood, alongside a rift in the relationship due to changes in character. Dissatisfaction on one side soon leads to infidelity, which in turn results in betrayal, outburst and abandonment, with the once happy couple leaving the community to seek a new life elsewhere.
From here things get better, yet worse. It is now 1914 and the Tallentires have recovered from past events and had a second child. John, once very much a farmhand, is now working down the mines and Emily has taken up employment in a factory. This status quo is soon shattered by the outbreak of the First World War, which sees many men leave for foreign shores, never to be heard from again, or to return a broken shell of their former selves.
The Hired Man is a heartbreaking tale of soil and toil, coal mines and please-be-mines. As with all Hessle Theatre offerings, this production is superb, with excellent vocals from Hannah Wilson, Stuart Raywood, Luke Cardwell and Angelica Hughes in particular. An excellent cast comes together to present a show that will move you in more ways than one, and make you thankful of whatever it is that you do for a living.
Based on the book by Melvyn Bragg, with music and lyrics by Howard Goodall, The Hired Man runs at Hull Truck Theatre until Saturday 30 April. To book, call their Box Office on 01482 323638 or visit www.hulltruck.co.uk
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Reviewer: Rich Sutherland