“What would you say to your son?”
Howard Goodall’s The Hired Man probably has to be one of my favourite musicals, British or otherwise, so going to see any production of it is something of a no-brainer, especially in a year that marks the centenary of the beginning of the First World War that plays such a strong part here. But performed by the National Youth Music Theatre of Great Britain, this one has the added bonus of featuring people who we are bound to be seeing on our stages for years to come, emerging as an astonishingly accomplished piece of work, not least in the lead performances of Amara Okereke and Dominic Harrison.
Bolstering the sterling efforts of the cast though is some superb creative work under Nikolai Foster’s hands. Matthew Wright’s design really opens up the stage most effectively, allowing for his beautiful set to evoke the unforgiving terrain of the turn-of-the-century English countryside; Nick Winston’s choreography reflects a similar muscularity that felt utterly true; and Sarah Travis’ musical direction is just inspired, marshalling the voices of her 30+-strong company to spine-tingling effect and also employing actor-musicianship to add real texture to the music.
Harrison and Okereke plays John and Emily Tallentire, a pragmatic young couple whose marriage is tested from the beginning by the scarcity of decent work and the social upheaval of the time, culminating in the outbreak of the First World War which marks their family as it did so many countless others. They both sound gorgeous but more importantly really embraced the dramatic heft needed to pull off the roles as time passes by. Naomi Morris and Charlie Callaghan as their children May and Harry completed a strong family unit.
But strong performances abound across the company: Joe Eaton-Kent as flirtatious farmer Jackson, Jacques Miché and Will Sharma as John’s brothers Isaac and Seth, Daisy Addison as strident best friend Sally Wrangham…it is hard not to be severely impressed with this current cohort and feel extraordinarily pleased both at what they have achieved here and also what they might go onto do in the future.