Tag Archives: Samuel Martin

The Hired Man

Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch

The Hired Man

The Hired Man

Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch

Reviewed – 30th April 2019



“the songs range from rousing ensemble numbers through romantic duets and tortured solos in time-honoured musical theatre fashion”


The Hired Man was published in 1969; the first part of Melvyn Bragg’s Cumbrian trilogy. It is set in and around a small Cumbrian village and follows the fortunes of John Tallentire, a farm labourer and miner, from his youth at the turn of the century, through the first World War, until the time just after his wife’s death, about twenty years later. Bragg wrote it as a homage to his grandfather, and it is an unashamedly nostalgic take on Britain’s rural past.

The story begins at a hiring fair, and John is taken on as a farm labourer. His young wife Emily comes to the town to join him, but her eye soon strays and she finds herself yearning for another local man, Jackson Pennington, who begs her to leave with him. John discovers their love and the men fight. Emily stays with her husband. Act two is set sixteen years later. John is now a miner, and he and Emily have teenage children. WWI then enters the story. John, his brothers and his son Harry (just shy of eighteen) join up and Harry dies. John returns, narrowly escapes a mining disaster, Emily dies, and John rejoins the ranks of hired men to re-begin his life on the land.

It’s a straightforward tale, and is ably told, by an energetic cast of actor-musicians. Jean Chan’s production design is well realised, and Douglas Rintoul directs with a sure hand. There are some striking stage moments – the trenches and the mining rescue are particularly effective – and the songs range from rousing ensemble numbers through romantic duets and tortured solos in time-honoured musical theatre fashion, but there is nothing here to really seize the imagination or the heart.

Oliver Hembrough and Lauryn Redding take the main roles of John and Emily, and each gives a committed and connected performance, but the pedestrian nature of so many of the songs, both lyrically and musically, means that they can never really take flight. Similarly, Samuel Martin was in good voice and exuded charm as John’s devil-may-care brother Isaac, but he had nowhere to go dramatically, and despite losing his leg in the war, remained the same sporting fellow he was when he first appeared.

Ultimately, The Hired Man is a one-dimensional nostalgic confection. There is no complexity of plot or character; men work, drink, fight and sport, and women exist purely in the domestic sphere. It is a version of England with which we are all familiar, and has been continually repackaged for the past 100 years, from the Hovis ads to Call the Midwife. ‘I’d be happy in a place like this/Now I see what I’ve always missed’, Emily’s daughter sings at the beginning of the second act. The key to this show is whether or not you agree with her.


Reviewed by Rebecca Crankshaw

Photography by Mark Sepple


The Hired Man

Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch until 18th May


Previously reviewed at this venue:
Rope | ★★★★ | February 2018
The Game of Love and Chai | ★★★ | April 2018
Priscilla, Queen of the Desert | ★★★ | May 2018
Abi | ★★★★ | September 2018
Abigail’s Party | ★★★½ | September 2018
Once | ★★★★★ | October 2018
Haunting Julia | ★★ | November 2018


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Electra – 4 Stars



The Bunker

Reviewed – 1st March 2018


“an accomplished and dynamic production, that milks its source for contemporary relevance”


A family tragedy of epic proportions, DumbWise Theatre bring John Ward’s new adaptation of the classic Greek tragedy to the Bunker Theatre. Electra, the youngest daughter, lives as a prisoner of her mother and the man who killed her father, while her brother Orestes is in hiding. As their personal story is manipulated for political gain, questions of revenge, loyalty and fate merge into a bloody climax.

This is a raw, stripped back staging of the classic tale updated to reflect modern sensibilities and complemented by a stark punk-rock score. John Ward’s interpretation retains the lyricism of the classic, but strips away some of the grandiosity to cut to the core of the story. Combined with Samuel Wilde’s open stage and stark lighting, this truly allows him to open up the characters and expose their full complexities to the audience. Unlike the gods, the characters do roll in the mud, revelling in their pain and humanity.

It’s a strong ensemble cast, with no weak links. Standouts of note would be Sian Martin’s coldly charismatic Clytemnestra who deftly moves the audience from fear, to scorn, to sympathy in what is a stirringly topical exploration of what it is to be a successful wife and mother in a position of power. Also Dario Coates as the naïve, conflicted Orestes, torn between loyalty to his father and his mother. Despite the over two hour run time, the pacing is tight and the musical interludes break up the action. While the first half can seem a little convoluted as it lays out the complex political landscape, it really hits its stride in the second half when we get to concentrate on the personal family drama at the heart.

It’s an accomplished and dynamic production, that milks its source for contemporary relevance. It’s incredibly effective and moving. Lydia Larson is electric and anarchic as Electra, a symbol of the revolution, full of rage and righteousness. The lasting impression is of a young woman so twisted by the pain of the past, that she has lost faith and sight in the future.


Reviewed for thespyinthestalls.com

Photography by Lidia Crisafulli



The Bunker until 24th March



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