On Friday evening, for one night only, once again, the story of The Hired Man came to life.
The show was perfectly cast with a lineup of incredibly talented actors. John Owen Jones sings the role of John Tallentire gorgeously, and I think it is the best I have ever heard him. He performs the role to it’s fullest potential, which is quite incredible as the show was done as a concert, and therefore he was stationary behind a music stand and microphone and yet, this didn’t take me out of the story at all. Playing across from him is the incredible Jenna Russell as his wife, Emily Tallentire. Jenna Russell is, without a doubt, one of the most talented performers in British theatre at the moment, and incredibly versatile, and she, like John Owen Jones, has no trouble telling a story in the concert format. She sings Howard Goodall’s score beautifully, unsurprisingly, as she is no stranger to his work, having originated the role of Jasmine in his show that followed The Hired Man, Girlfriends, twenty nine years ago. (By coincidence, Girlfriends is returning to London this year, for a two week run in November, by Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts directed by Julie Atherton, who played the role of Emily in the revival of The Hired Man three years ago.) The other shining star in the show is Matthew Seadon-Young, who plays Jackson Pennington. His gorgeous voice combined with Howard Goodall’s beautiful music is breathtaking, and he suits the part perfectly. His presence on stage is undeniable, which is no easy feat when surrounded by such seasoned stars, but he holds his own wonderfully.
The story was brilliantly formatted for a concert, and meant that I was completely engaged throughout, rather than feeling that the show wasn’t quite being told due to lack of staging. The fourteen piece band was cleverly placed on stage, expertly led by conductor Andrew Linnie, and this gave the show the feeling of not just telling a story, but a celebration of Howard Goodall’s beautiful score, which gave the concert an exciting energy. It was a lovely touch having Melvyn Bragg narrate the show as well, of which he wrote the book, which again gave the feeling of celebrating a musical that has stood the test of time.
There is no question as to why this show continues to return to the stage over thirty years after it’s opening night, or why such celebrated performers are eager to be a part of it time and time again. The story is beautiful, hauntingly relevant and timeless, and it was a pleasure to see it performed.
Reviewed by Kara Taylor Alberts (@karaalberts)