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The Hired Man but not as we know him

PUBLISHED: 15:49 12 March 2008 | UPDATED: 17:21 16 August 2010

DRAMATIC: Stuart Ward as Isaac and Claire Sundin as Emily in The Hired Man at Greenwich Theatre.

DRAMATIC: Stuart Ward as Isaac and Claire Sundin as Emily in The Hired Man at Greenwich Theatre.

IT is quite possible that there are two versions of The Hired Man doing the rounds and I just saw the wrong one, writes Mark Campbell.

IT is quite possible that there are two versions of The Hired Man doing the rounds and I just saw the wrong one, writes Mark Campbell.

Surely last week's production at the Greenwich Theatre can't have been the same one that reviewers have praised as 'awesome', 'marvellous' and 'searing', with 'the greatest score of any English musical of the past 25 years'?

Some of the comments may have referred to the original 1984 West End production of this Howard Goodall musical (based on Melvyn Bragg's novel), which was, by all accounts, a very dramatic piece of musical theatre. But certainly it would be hard to apply those same triumphant adjectives to this eight-strong touring production, with its solitary piano accompaniment.

The story itself is sheer prose. As the blurb says, it is "the timeless, moving story of a young married couple and their struggle to carve a living from the land...interrupted by the gathering storm of war in Europe - haunting, thrilling, stirring stuff".

Well, quite.

There is, to be fair, probably an interesting story to be told here, but Goodall's dreary, soundalike tunes are not the best way to tell it.

With lyrics of appalling banality, the tinkly piano music is by turns twee and monotonous, repeating the same basic melodies and chords ad finitum.

Directed by Daniel Buckroyd, who perhaps displays a little too much reverence for the text, Juliet Shillingford's stark set comes into its own for the impressive Passchendaele sequences in Act Two.

Costumes are suitably earthy and brown, and there is some effective lighting by Mark Dymock.

The company - six men and two women - do their best with what they are given, and the moments of physical activity (a wrestling match, a dance, digging a field) are easily the most effective.

Richard Colvin's John has several opportunities to showcase his talented voice, but it is Claire Sundin as his frustrated wife Emily who is the evening's most memorable performer: 'Fade Away and Day Follows Day are hauntingly delivered.

Still, I wish I'd seen the show that all the critics were raving about.

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