Review: The Hired Man, Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch

One of my favourite musicals – Howard Goodall’s The Hired Man receives a well-realised new revival courtesy of Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch and Hull Truck Theatre

“I can peel my own orange”

From the Landor to the Mercury to the Union, via the NYMT and all-star Cadogan Hall concerts, there’s no doubting that Howard Goodall’s British folk musical The Hired Man is one of my all-time faves. Musically, it is so beautiful that you can’t really argue against the marketing material claims that it is “the best British musical in 40 years” (though I might demur and say Top 5…).

It is now the turn of Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch and Hull Truck Theatre to revive the show, some 35 years old now, in association with Oldham Coliseum Theatre. And Douglas Rintoul’s fully actor-musician production is brimming with good ideas which serve the material well, teasing out a universality to its message which can sometimes feel hemmed into its Cumbria setting. Continue reading “Review: The Hired Man, Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch”

20 shows to look forward to in 2019

So many of the recommendations for shows to see next year focus on the West End. And for sure, I’m excited to catch big ticket numbers like All About Eve, Come From Away, and Waitress but I wanted to cast my eye a little further afield, so here’s my top tips for shows on the London fringe (plus one from the Barbican) and across the UK.

1 Medea, Internationaal Theater Amsterdam at the Barbican
Simon Stone’s sleekly contemporary recasting of Euripides is straight up amazing. Anchored by a storming performance from Marieke Heebink, it is as beautiful and brutal as they come. It’s also one of the few plays that has legit made me go ‘oh no’ out loud once a particular penny dropped. My review from 2014 is here but do yourself a favour and don’t read it until you’ve seen it.

Macbeth, Watermill Theatre
2018 saw some disappointing Macbeths and I was thus ready to swear off the play for 2019. But the Watermill Ensemble’s decision to tackle the play will certainly break that resolve, Paul Hart’s innovative direction of this spectacular actor-musician team will surely break the hoodoo…

3 Noughts and Crosses, Derby Theatre, and touring
Pilot Theatre follow on from their strong Brighton Rock with this Malory Blackman adaptation by Sabrina Mahfouz, a Young Adult story but one which promises to speak to us all. Continue reading “20 shows to look forward to in 2019”

Album Review: Helen Power – Enraptured

“There is joy in the air
So be gone with dull care”

What to do to make your album stand out in a crowded marketplace of musical theatre-related albums? Get Auburn Jam’s Joe Davison in to do your arrangements, that’s what. A glimpse at the tracklisting of Helen Power’s new album Enraptured may not initially suggest a great adventurousness but on first listen, its playful and subtly daring nature soon become apparent.

A relaxed take on Porgy & Bess’ Summertime is a strong opener, full of bold musicality and Power’s confident soprano, but it’s the next of couple of tracks that set out the vision here. A Latin-inflected ‘The Sound Of Music’ has no right to be effective but as Davison introduces silky bossanova rhythms and elastic double-bass lines, it’s impossible to resist its easygoing charm. And if less radical, his Bond-esque re-arrangement of the title track from The Phantom Of The Opera is no less exciting, its duelling brass section and violins building to a breathless climax that thrills just as much as Power’s soaring top E. Continue reading “Album Review: Helen Power – Enraptured”

Album Review: The Hired Man (2007 UK Tour Cast)

“Hear our thrilling and willing awakening

It is no secret that Howard Goodall’s score for The Hired Man is one I consider to be one of the most beautiful in all of British musical theatre, and so any opportunity to see the show – from orchestral concerts to fringe productions – is one I’ll gladly take. This cast recordings errs very much towards the latter, taken from New Perspective’s chamber-musical interpretation which cast just eight people.

Richard Reeday’s musical direction sees the orchestrations similarly refined down to piano, trumpet and violin and so it offers something of a rough-and-ready approach which has both merits and demerits. A limited ensemble means that the choral power of tracks like ‘Song of the Hired Man’ don’t carry quite the heft that the vision of a community as one demands to meet the scope of Goodall’s work. Continue reading “Album Review: The Hired Man (2007 UK Tour Cast)”

Review: The Hired Man, Union

“We’re not hurried, or flurried, or worried, for ourselves”
 
The Hired Man remains one of my all-time favourite British musicals, the lusciousness of Howard Goodall’s score simply gorgeous to listen and so any opportunity to hear it is one gladly taken. The Union Theatre’s Goodall festival a couple of years ago featured the dreaming, Love Story, and Girlfriends and you wouldn’t put it past them to host the fringe premiere of Bend It Like Beckham sometime soon, but it is the show based on Melvyn Bragg’s novel that takes the spotlight for now.
 
Set at the turn of the previous century in the unforgiving rural landscape of Cumbria, The Hired Man himself is the hard-working John Tallentire, a man who will turn to any aspect of working the land – above in the field or below in the mines – to support his family, but in difficult times and with the Great War approaching, life is tough. From love triangles to family tragedies, organised labour disputes to the brutal realities of war, a laugh-a-minute musical comedy this is not.

Continue reading “Review: The Hired Man, Union”

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”

Album Review: Caroline Sheen – Raise the Curtain (2010)

“It’s been fun hitchin’ up with a psycho like you”

Caroline Sheen is one of those performers you feel ought to be better known, having starred in some pretty major shows throughout her career yet never quite managing that breakthrough moment – no matter, she’s thus one of British musical theatre’s secret pleasures. Her debut album Raise the Curtain saw her capitalise a little on her bigger gigs – Mary Poppins, The Witches of Eastwick – but it also pleasingly gives plenty of airtime to new musical theatre writing too.

In fact there’s no less than 5 tracks which received their first ever recordings here, Sheen opting to use her talent to really shine a light on the contemporary scene, showcasing the music she clearly loves. So the likes of innovative composer Conor Mitchell gets his striking ‘What Did You Want From Love?‘ featured, Richard Taylor (now represented in the West End with The Go-Between) gets a beautiful song called ‘Higher’ on there, so too Grant Olding with ‘Carrie Makes A Decision’ from his show Three Sides. Continue reading “Album Review: Caroline Sheen – Raise the Curtain (2010)”

Album Review: Bend it like Beckham (Original London Cast Album)

“It’s a little bit Punjab
And a little bit UK”

It’s been just about a month since Bend it like Beckham heard the final whistle at the Savoy so I thought I’d cast a reviewer’s eye over the Original London Cast Album which was released last year. I’ve long been a fan of Howard Goodall’s work and this score was no exception, hooking me from the first time I saw to the show to the second and the third with its fusion of his own inimitable British style and the Bhangra influences drawn from Gurinder Chadha’s book, aided in authenticity by co-orchestrator Kuljit Bhamra. 

Recorded live in the theatre (although there’s minimal sound from the audience until the very end), it sounds a real treat and it really does give the best of both the worlds it represents. Whether individually as in Sophie-Louise Dann’s ‘There She Goes’ or Rekha Sawhney leading the bridal party in the gorgeous Punjab lament ‘Heer’, or multiculturally as the majority of the music, it is always highly tuneful and musically interesting, highlighting styles of music that are too rarely seen in the West End. Continue reading “Album Review: Bend it like Beckham (Original London Cast Album)”

Critics’ Circle Awards 2015: the winners in full

Best New Play
Hangmen by Martin McDonagh

The Peter Hepple Award for Best Musical
Bend It Like Beckham

Best Actor
Kenneth Cranham in The Father

Best Actress
Denise Gough in People, Places and Things

The Trewin Award for Best Shakespearean Performance
Judi Dench in The Winter’s Tale

Best Director
Robert Icke for Oresteia

Best Designer
Anna Fleischle for Hangmen

Most Promising Playwright
James Fritz for Four minutes twelve seconds

The Jack Tinker Award for Most Promising Newcomer [other than a playwright]
David Moorst in Violence and Son

 

 

Re-review: Bend it like Beckham, Phoenix

“Just look at them now”

A third trip back to UB2 and Bend it like Beckham remains a real pleasure (original review / preview). It’s interesting how the release of a show’s cast recording can impact my feelings towards it – being a big Howard Goodall fan, I’ve listened to this OCR a lot and fallen more in love with its music than ever. And in this age of playlists, it’s quite easy to come up with edited highlights that skate over some of the weaker moments to give an idealised version of the production.

That said, going back to the Phoenix Theatre was still highly enjoyable and it’s always fascinating to see how different emphases come through after repeated views. For me, it has been the realisation that the heart of the show lies as much with Jess’ parents, the under-rated Natasha Jayetileke and Tony Jayawardena making us care so deeply about their experiences that have allowed second-generation Jess to reach for the freedom she craves. Continue reading “Re-review: Bend it like Beckham, Phoenix”