The Hired Man is a musical by Howard Goodall and, Melvyn Bragg, which was performed as our school play last term. IMHO it is extremely good, with really enjoyable songs, original orchestration, and an involving story.

Everything revolves around a young married couple, John and Emily Tallentire, from Cumbria (a county in the north of England). They have left their own home town to 'get out on their own for a bit', and move to Crossbridge, a nearby village. John goes to the village hiring to get work as a farmhand. He is duly employed, and is to earn 16 shillings a week (a pittance, even at the rates then), but has the use of a cottage on farm land, and gets dead meat with which to supplement his diet. He is a strong and devoted worker, and earns the respect of the farm's owner, Mr Pennington, but not that of his son, Jackson.

Jackson turns out to be a bit of a philanderer. One of the farm girls, by the name of Sally, confides to Emily how much she likes him, but he hits on Emily whilst her husband is out ploughing the fields! She tells him that there can never be anything between them, but one day, when John is out hunting with his two brothers, Seth and Isaac, they finally share a fiery kiss. At the end of the first act, John suddenly finds out, and a fight ensues. Jackson is temporarily unconscious, but comes round in time to sing in the finale of the scene.

Act 2 is set sixteen years later. John and Emily have two children, Harry and May. They have moved to the nearby mining town, where John joins his two brothers 'down't pit'. However, shortly after their new lifestyle is introduced, it is broken up again as the World War 1 breaks out, and John volunteers. We see many familiar faces in the trench scenes, many of whom die. Isaac is badly injured, and only saved by the bravery of one Jackson Pennington. Whilst John is away, and unable to stop him, Harry joins up, but is killed in action. John returns home to find Emily inconsolable. Her health starts to deteriorate, and she weakens and pales. John, after the war, continues to work in the mines.

However, there is an accident down the mines. Emily hears the siren, and sends May to find out whether her father is all right. However, on her return, with good news of her father, she finds her mother is dead. John eventually decides to move back to the land, and the piece culminates in the re-hiring, wherein John once again becomes a farmhand.

Although this was by and large an extremely enjoyable production, there were one or two small things about it which annoyed me. Firstly, the thick 'oop north' accents that all the characters were forced to adopt occasionally obscured the words, and secondly, Olly White as John was not quite able to reach some of the top notes of his part. Nonetheless, it was good enough that I went four nights out of six.

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