Cumbria, a old regional name for that part of North-West England which includes the Highland Heart of the Lake District, is an area that is known for farmers. In fact most people who have lived in Cumbria over the last 7000 years have been farmers, despite the poor quality of the land. But less well known outside Cumbria is the history of mining in the area, Celtic tribes dug for coal, copper, lead, zinc, iron and silver deposits, with mines that often ran far out under the sea.
The Hired Man brings us a glimpse of this lifestyle in a show written by Melvyn Bragg and with music and lyrics written by English composer Howard Goodall, a man famous for writing the ‘Not the Nine o’clock News’ theme song and the song ‘Tongue Tied’ for Red Dwarf. But this musical avoids that high concept, lavish sets and big solo numbers of the Lloyd webber world and at the heart keeps the coral tradition, in songs that wouldn’t be out of place sung in a pub on a Friday night.
The show continues the tradition at The Queen’s Theatre that all of the cast play instruments and when they are not part of the scene the cast will be playing in the background. The instruments are often used as props, indeed you have never lived until you have seen a violin used as a spade or a cello being stroked as if it’s a dog.
The amazing writing of Melvyn Bragg really helps your heart reach out to the characters, meaning that you weep during their tragedies, laugh at their jokes and I even found myself joining in with the songs. This openness and the simpleness of the stage helps you to feel like you are with them in the bar, almost as if you could almost walk up on stage and buy them all a drink
Described by Goodall as “a serious musical about ordinary people… who are poor and whose lives have real ups and downs”. It’s a keystone in British Musical Theatre and if you go and see one show this year, I would highly recommend this one, it’s like having a West End show on our doorstep.
HornchurchLife’s Reviews appear in the Trident magazine, Amdram.co.uk and Musical Theatre Review. If you would like to feature them on your website or magazine, contact us at HornchurchLife@gmail.com