Review: The Hired Man in concert, Cadogan Hall

“We are worth your shillings”

Marking the first major concert presentation of the show in over 20 years, The Hired Man in concert saw Howard Goodall and Melvyn Bragg’s 1984 musical take over the elegant surroundings of Cadogan Hall, for a glorious evening celebrating one of the all-time greats of British musical theatre writing. With a boutique orchestra conducted by Andrew Linnie, an ensemble of over 20 singers and a lead cast of bona fide West End and Broadway stars, it was a powerfully effective treatment of the material.

The Hired Man is based on Bragg’s 1969 novel, part of his Cumbrian Trilogy, following the lives of labourer and miner John Tallentire and his wife Emily as they battle first the hardship of agricultural life in a fast-industrialising world and then the impact of the First World War on their whole community. And supporting it, Goodall’s music and lyrics draws on English folk tradition, as well as his own melodious style, to create a soulful, stirring score that lingers long in the mind with its hummability and heartbreak. Continue reading “Review: The Hired Man in concert, Cadogan Hall”

Review: The Beautiful Game, Union Theatre

“I’m an atheist and an internationalist – I don’t believe in God or country”

Andrew Lloyd Webber and Ben Elton’s The Beautiful Game managed a run of just under a year at the turn of the millennium. It was then rewritten and retitled The Boys in the Photograph for a 2009 North American premiere in Canada, and it is that version which now makes its London fringe debut at the Union Theatre, but under the original title of The Beautiful Game. Got it? The endless tinkering of musicals is nothing new – ‘Our Kind of Love’, the best known song in the original was filleted out and repurposed as the title song for Love Never Dies – but the clumsiness with which the ending has been redone here is ridiculously clunky.

Which is a shame, as there is much good work here in Lotte Wakeham’s production. David Shields’ simple design makes clever use of benches and Tim Jackson’s choreography finds a remarkably effective middle ground between soccer and soft shuffle in bringing the football sequences to vibrant life on the limited traverse stage. An appealingly fresh-faced cast, spearheaded by an excellent Niamh Perry, deliver performances of spirited energy and graceful enthusiasm. And musically, MD Benjamin Holder introduces an interesting range of textures to enhance the score and alleviate some of its repetitive longueurs. Continue reading “Review: The Beautiful Game, Union Theatre”