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Farm Boy

This modest sequel to Michael Morpurgo's runaway hit War Horse is an all-too-predictable tale. logo
Richard Pryal and John Walters in Farm Boy
(© Carol Rosegg)
Those magnificent cane-and-cable creatures over at Lincoln Center have nothing to fear from the surprisingly puny vintage tractor that occupies center stage in Farm Boy, a modest sequel to Michael Morpurgo's runaway hit War Horse now being presented at 59E59 Theatres as part of the Brits Off Broadway series.

Indeed, the work -- adapted by director Daniel Buckroyd -- is not so much a sequel to War Horse as a pallid footnote, and not so much a play as an enthusiastically enacted story hour.

This plodding, all-too-predictable tale -- told in flashback -- picks up about a decade after the conclusion of World War I. The plowhorse Joey, stirringly rescued from the battlefield, is back in harness, hitched up with the old mare Zoey to work the fields of Devon. Albert -- who was the young protagonist of War Horse -- makes an ill-advised bet, pitting his team against a boastful neighbor's latest acquisition, the very tractor -- now dusty and derelict -- that we see before us.

Actors John Walters and Richard Pryal do their utmost to wring every drop of suspense from the day-long battle, especially recreating the contest with a modicum of props (a chair represents the equine team). But if you have any doubt as to how this man-against-machine tussle will turn out, you had better check to see whether your age has somehow reverted to the single digits. Also, that tractor onstage is a bit of a giveaway.

About half of the hour-long script is given over to a recap of War Horse, and to Grandfather's blindingly obvious big reveal: having skimped on school in favor of farm work, he "can't... read!" It's only after the reeducation campaign is complete that there's any real action on view.

Matters aren't helped either by the fact that every scene, present and past, is accompanied by emotionally manipulative piano pastiches composed by Matt Marks.

Oddly, the play, though based on a children's book, isn't really suitable for young ones. First, there's the confusion of all that character-switching to deal with: even if you pay very close attention, it's hard to keep the generations straight. Moreover, it's not a fair fight: Pryal, pretending to be Grandson's grandmother (the obvious way, with fussy gestures and a piping voice), clearly commits an act of unsportswomanlike industrial sabotage.

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