The Hired Man
The magnificent score to this musical about a working class family in rural Cumbria still shines in this scaled-down production.
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.