Based on Bragg's novel of the same name, the show tells the story of John Tallentire (Richard Colvin), who hires himself out as a farm laborer to support his newlywed wife Emily (Claire Sundin). The first act concentrates on the love triangle between the married couple and Jackson (Simon Pontin), the son of John's employer, who becomes romantically entangled with Emily. The second act jumps ahead a number of years, focusing on the Tallentire family -- which now includes daughter May (Katie Howell) and son Harry (Lee Foster) -- as they undergo a number of travails involving the changing face of the English countryside, the emerging union movement for coal miners, and the battlefields of World War I.
Colvin's slight frame seems incongruous with John's description of himself as being "among the strongest" of hired laborers, but he has a pleasant tenor that makes the songs "Fade Away" and "What Would You Say to Your Son?" among the most affecting. Sundin doesn't make as strong of an impression, being vocally weak in her first number, "Now for the First Time," and indicating a little too much in Emily's interactions with John and Jackson. Pontin, however, is quite charismatic and infuses his duet with Sundin, "I Wouldn't Be the First," with a convincing passion.
The remaining cast members -- all playing multiple roles -- do solid work. Stuart Ward, who plays John's brother, Issac, leads the jaunty tune, "Get Up and Go Lad," while David Stothard, as John's other brother Seth, is given the catchy anthem, "Men of Stone" as he tries to raise support for the union. Howell infuses the character of May with a playful energy as she sings the gorgeous "You Never See the Sun." Foster and Andrew Wheaton don't really get to solo, but make strong contributions to the choral numbers. Partly due to the modest size of the theater, the small ensemble seems quite large vocally, and Goodall's rousing music sounds terrific.
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