Review: The Corn is Green, National Theatre

Nicola Walker returns to the London stage in fine form, in this intriguing revival of Emlyn Williams’ The Corn is Green at the National Theatre

“I have never spoken to any man without wanting to box his ears”

aka Dominic Cooke’s interpretation of Emlyn Williams’ The Corn is Green. It is 35 years since this 1938 play was last seen in London and in many ways it isn’t hard to see why. Which is why it is rather inspired that this National Theatre production is very much Cooke’s vision of the play, which inserts a framing device of Williams himself as a character, realigning the show into a highly effective and touching memory play.

Williams’ original play takes inspiration from his own life but enough dramatic license has been employed to turn into a semi-autobiographical work, detailing the power of education to change lives. Miss Moffat’s arrival in a rural North Wales village and her establishment of a school has a major impact on all the villagers but especially young Morgan Evans, who she identifies as having much potential and thus resolves to make him her star pupil.

But thanks to Cooke’s intervention, we first meet Williams as an adult and as he is bored at a party, decides to come up with this story and thus becomes our narrator. And as he builds up the detail of his tale, so to is the world of the play constructed as ULTZ’s set takes shapes in front of us. Williams as narrator also passes comment on the play, self-editing at times to make it more dramatic, a neat touch which also nods to the reality that there’s an understandable datedness here.

It is a brilliant piece of storytelling and I adored Gareth David-Lloyd’s performance. But the heart of the show lies with Miss Moffat, a cracking role which the magnificent Nicola Walker sinks her teeth into with real relish. She doesn’t back away from the complexity of Moffat’s uncompromising nature which demands results at the expense of any empathy, girlfriends and Welsh identities be damned, and also reminds us of the rigidity of the class system within which they must operate.

A Welsh male voice choir adds beautifully atmospheric, if not particularly original, texture. And in its final moments, the production produces a poignant and powerful image that sears itself into the mind. Glorious. 

Running time: 2 hours 40 minutes (with interval)
Photos: Johan Persson
The Corn is Green is booking at the National Theatre until 11th June

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