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Breathing life into tired man

PUBLISHED: 16:43 20 November 2008 | UPDATED: 17:24 16 August 2010

BACK in March I reviewed Melvyn Bragg and Howard Goodall's musical The Hired Man at Greenwich Theatre, and it would be fair to say I didn t much like it, writes Mark Campbell.

BACK in March I reviewed Melvyn Bragg and Howard Goodall's musical The Hired Man at Greenwich Theatre, and it would be fair to say I didn't much like it, writes Mark Campbell.

Now it has come to the Erith Playhouse in an amateur production directed by Roger Butler, and I'm happy to say it is a much more pleasurable thing. I still rate the story and dialogue below average - from whippets to flat caps, no Northern cliché is left unturned in this drab tale of a Cumbrian labourer at the tail end of the 19th century. And the music consists of a handful of tunes repeated ad nauseam.

But whereas in the professional Greenwich show (which had a cast of only eight) this was akin to slow torture, Erith's impressive 23-strong ensemble created an almost hypnotic musical recitation that grew more resonant as the evening progressed.

It also helped that under the aegis of MD Andy Hall we had a much richer orchestral sound: keyboard, violin and trumpet lent a satisfying richness and depth to the score, missing completely from Greenwich's sole 'Chas and Dave' pub piano.

Vocally, the Erith players were excellent. The ensemble numbers were delivered with passion and energy and the main cast all gave stand-out performances.

Jason Simmons (Seth) had a pleasant singing voice, John Turnball was very funny as a Colonel Blimp-style recruiting officer and Kelly Randall was excellent as Sally.

Matt Hawes, as the titular "hired man" John Tallentire, was a brooding, almost Byronic figure, juxtaposed with Dave Witham as the plain-speaking labourer Jackson, who seduces John's wife behind his back.

But most impressive of all was Jenny Tallowin Snee as John's wife Emily. With a consistent Cumbrian accent (when others occasionally wavered between Liverpudlian and Texan) and a hauntingly beautiful voice, she was sensational.

The duet, I Wouldn't Be the First, showcased her and Dave Witham's extraordinary vocal talents, before segueing into Fade Away, this time with Matt Howes showing what a fine tenor he is. And seeing it on Remembrance Day, the scenes set in the trenches of wartime France were almost overwhelmingly affecting.

The next production at Erith Playhouse is The Old Ladies by Rodney Ackland, from December 1-6. Tickets: 01322 650345.

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