Review: The Hired Man at Hull Truck Theatre

Hessle Theatre Company is renowned in the Hull area for the excellent quality of their productions, so I knew before I arrived at Hull Truck Theatre that I was in for a night of entertainment worthy of any professional company.

The Hired Man is the 1984 musical collaboration of Howard Goodall (Music and Lyrics) and Melvyn Bragg (Book), on who’s 1969 novel of the same name is based. It follows the fortunes of John and Emily Tallentire and their family as they navigate life in the North of England between 1898 and approximately 1920 (imagine a Catherine Cookson novel set to music and you’re not far wrong!)

Not disappointed 

I was not disappointed by the company. The show was directed by Martin Beaumont who provided focus and reason for everything that happened within the piece with a clarity and eye for detail gained from many years of experience. 

The performers were on the whole strong and well-cast and were musically note perfect throughout the piece. Special mention must go to Angelica Hughes playing the role of May Tallentire; hers was definitely the standout performance of the night. She didn’t put a foot wrong, playing every emotion needed with a level of sensitivity and subtlety far beyond her age and the realms of amateur theatre – if she isn’t already, this girl needs to consider a career in professional theatre.

Simple yet effective 

The production values of the show were superb. The set consisted of a backdrop of rolling Cumbrian hills and clouds, along with a raised back rostra behind a large open front area into which additional furniture could be added. It was simple yet effective, and provided the perfect backdrop for the many varied scenes of the production, all of which were heightened by the atmospheric, mood-enhancing lighting designed by Tony Courts. In addition, the costumes were well conceived and harmonised to create a beautiful period feel where detail was paramount.

From everything I have just said, you’d think that I had an absolutely amazing night at the theatre, but sadly that wasn’t the case. It was no fault of the company or the production team – the fault lies entirely with the show itself. 

Pleasant, just not memorable 

The songs, though pleasant enough, just aren’t memorable, and the show lacks anything even close to resembling a show-stopper. On top of this, The Hired Man is very much a show of two halves. Act One is a musical episode of Hollyoaks set in 1898; domestic and mundane, essentially a kitchen sink drama based around the love triangle created by Emily’s dissatisfaction with her own lot.  

By contrast, Act Two is as grand and sweeping in its themes as a British Les Miserables; incorporating the early formation of the National Union of Mineworkers, the First World War and the devastating impact that ‘The War to End All Wars’ had on those who remained. 

It’s always my joking threat that if a show isn’t good I’ll leave at the interval. With The Hired Man, I’m glad that I didn’t because I would have missed the far better half of the show – instead I wish that I’d arrived at the midpoint!

Will you be seeing The Hired Man? Let us know in the comments below!