Musical drama for New Theatre's 60th birthday

Issue 

The Hired Man
By Melvyn Bragg
Music by Howard Goodall
Directed by Marie Armstrong
New Theatre, Sydney
Reviewed by Deborah McCulloch

Based on Melvyn Bragg's novel of the same name, The Hired Man is a tribute to his paternal grandfather, an agricultural labourer or "hired man", and the men and women like him, on the land, down the pits, in Edwardian Britain. Built around the long and sometimes troubled marriage of Emily and John, this music-drama touches on union struggles, the coming first world war and conflicts on a more personal level.

British playwright Melvyn Bragg, author of the screenplay Jesus Christ Superstar, was born of working-class parents in the northern English county of Cumberland. "It's a kind of real aristocratic birth", he says. "It gave me 20 years of solidity, solid family, solid moral values, solid ambitions."

This production marks the New Theatre's 60th anniversary. The theatre is known and appreciated for its emphasis on left-wing and radical themes; recent productions have included a play about black deaths in custody, The Death of Phillip Robertson.

The current production is a little sentimental and predictable for my taste; but for those looking forward to a boisterous celebration of working-class life to brighten up an evening, The Hired Man may well fit the bill.

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